Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving up a draft pick

The Toronto Blue Jays almost certainly will offer arbitration to shortstop Marco Scutaro on Tuesday, ensuring they'll receive a first-round draft pick from the team that signs him as a free agent. Should the Red Sox sign Scutaro, they would forfeit the No. 29 pick in the draft. Some have speculated that the Red Sox, a player-development machine, would shy away from signing a 34-year-old shortstop at the price of their first-round draft pick.

Not so fast.

A glance at the list of the names atop the list at and the names atop the Baseball America list to be released in a couple of weeks reveals that first-round draft picks aren't as critical to the deep-pocketed Red Sox as they are to other teams. Consider the list:

1. Casey Kelly: 1st-rounder in 2008
2. Ryan Westmoreland: 5th-rounder in 2008
3. Ryan Kalish: 9th-rounder in 2006
4. Josh Reddick: 17th-rounder in 2006
5. Lars Anderson: 18th-rounder in 2006
6. Anthony Rizzo: 6th-rounder in 2007
7. Junichi Tazawa: International free agent
8. Jose Iglesias: International free agent
9. Stolmy Pimentel: International free agent
10. Michael Bowden: Supplemental pick in 2005

It's not that Westmoreland or Kalish were diamonds in the rough that the Red Sox somehow unearthed deep in the draft the way the Patriots unearthed Tom Brady. The Red Sox didn't necessarily have a scout who saw something in Anderson that no one else saw.

The Red Sox, rather, could afford to pay above-slot money -- meaning bonuses significantly higher than they'd normally pay to late-round picks -- to high-school guys who intended to go to college unless the team that drafted them convinced them to do otherwise.

In that way, the Red Sox drafted first-round talent -- or, at least, second- or third- round talent -- deep in the draft.

The college pitcher drafted one spot ahead of Westmoreland got a $600,000 bonus from the Cleveland Indians, according to Baseball America. Westmoreland, who had a scholarship offer in hand to play at Vanderbilt, got $2 million to decide that education was overrated.

The college third baseman drafted two spots ahead of Kalish got a $70,000 bonus from the Cleveland Indians. The college pitcher drafted one spot ahead of Kalish got a $400,00 bonus from the Los Angeles. Kalish, who could have played quarterback at Virginia, got $600,000 to decide that he liked baseball best of all.

None of the players drafted in the same neighborhood as Anderson got anything worth reporting in the way of signing bonuses -- with the exception of pitcher Michael Dubee, who signed with the Phillies for $125,000. Anderson, who was all set to go to Cal on a baseball scholarship, got $825,000 to make his minor-league bus rides a little more tolerable.

That still happens:
* Pitcher Madison Younginer might not be a household name yet, but he was Baseball America's 19th-best high school talent with a commitment to Clemson who slid into the seventh round. When the Red Sox offered $975,000 to him last summer, he decided orange wasn't his favorite color anymore.
* Outfielder Brandon Jacobs fell into the 10th round this year thanks in large part to a commitment to play football at Auburn, but the Red Sox got him into their system thanks to a signing bonus of $750,000.
* Third baseman Miles Head tumbled all the way into the 26th round because he looked like he'd made up his mind to play for Georgia, but $335,000 from the Red Sox -- a fortune at that point in the draft -- convinced him to do otherwise.

In some ways, if the Red Sox lose their first-round pick, they can use the $2 or $3 million they save to buy some talented high-school draftees out of otherwise firm college commitments. Younginer and infielder David Renfroe -- the 43rd-best high-school talent last year who slid into the back of the third round with a commitment to Ole Miss -- are recent examples of that.

Losing a first-round pick for a free agent is a big deal and shouldn't be taken lightly.

For the right free agent, though, it's something from which the Red Sox can recover in the later rounds of the draft -- or by spending big bucks in international free agency.

(One last thing to consider: Should the Red Sox sign another Type A free agent, be it Chone Figgins or Matt Holliday or John Lackey or Rafael Soriano, they can only lose one first-round pick. The price of Scutaro then would become a second-round pick.)

A handful of options for the Red Sox bullpen

As much as we're all focused on who will play left field and shortstop and third base next season, it's important to remember the part of the roster with which Theo Epstein had the most success last season -- and thus the part of the roster he'll undoubtedly try to tweak once again this winter: The bullpen.

Jonathan Papelbon almost certainly will be back. Hideki Okajima has been as consistent as it gets over the last few years. Daniel Bard is an up-and-coming flamethrower -- though no one in this particular neighborhood is completely convinced he's not going to be a starting pitcher at some point. Manny Delcarmen endured his rockiest season. Ramon Ramirez was untouchable in April and May but very touchable in August and September. Takashi Saito has been outrighted off the 40-man roster and likely won't be back. A endless cast of characters rotated through the final spot in the bullpen once Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland.

(Postscript: And now Billy Wagner is gone, on his way to Atlanta to become the Braves' new closer.)

All of that means Epstein has to be surveying the free-agent market -- between phone calls to Jason Bay's agent, of course -- to see who might be an upgrade on what he has:

Kiko Calero: Even including a miserable season in 2007, the 34-year-old righty has a career 3.24 ERA in 312 appearances out of the bullpen. A year ago, he had a 1.95 ERA and struck out better than a batter an inning and allowed just one home run in 60 innings pitched. His career walk rate is a tick above the major-league average, but so too is his strikeout rate.

Even better: He won't cost a draft pick.

Octavio Dotel: The 36-year-old righty isn't a closer anymore, but he had a 3.55 ERA in 129 1/3 innings spanning two seasons with the White Sox, striking out more than a hitter an inning in both of his years in Chicago. The injury issues that plagued him in Oakland, New York, Kansas City and Atlanta seem to be behind him, and he's evolving as a pitcher: He added a cutter to his repertoire last season.

The downside to Dotel is that he's a Type A free agent who would require the forfeiture of a first-round pick -- though if the Red Sox signed both Dotel and Marco Scutaro, one of the two would mean forfeiting only a second-round pick. Heck, if the Red Sox sign Matt Holliday, they'd only lose a third-round pick for either Dotel or Scutaro.

Mike Gonzalez: Like Wagner, this lefty almost certainly will be looking for job where he can close. (The Pirates, the team with whom he had an All-Star caliber year in 2006, reportedly are interested.) If he doesn't find that, though, he could be a perfect replacement for Wagner in front of Papelbon in the Red Sox bullpen. Gonzalez had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.85 in his last two seasons in Atlanta, and both righties and lefties have OPS'ed less than .650 against him in his career. Like Dotel, he's a Type A free agent.

Kevin Gregg: Another Type A free agent, the former Cubs and Marlins closer endured a rocky season (4.72 ERA) en route to losing his job at the back end of the bullpen. He has, however, allowed just 14 percent of inherited runners to score in the last two seasons -- even if his walk rate has been above the major-league average in each of the last three seasons.

Brandon Lyon: The righty once traded for Curt Schilling had a 2.86 ERA in setup duty with Detroit this season thanks in large part to a ground ball-to-fly ball ratio well above the major-league average. He allowed inherited runners to score at a less-than-impressive 36 percent clip last season, but his strikeout rate has increased in each of the last two seasons.

Justin Miller: The former disappointment with Toronto has a 3.65 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.15 over his past three seasons in Florida and San Francisco. His 3.18 ERA last season might be something of a mirage, though, given his K/BB ratio of 1.33, his BABIP of .248 and his inherited runners strand rate of 30 percent.

Chan Ho Park: At one time a devastating free-agent signing in Texas -- the Rangers gave him a $65 million contract after the 2001 season -- Park reinvented himself as a relief pitcher with the Dodgers and Phillies. His strikeout rate is right around the major-league average (7.9 per nine innings last season) but his walk rate is impressive (3.6) and has dropped significantly since his lousy years as a starter. One possible snag: Park told The Korea Times earlier this month that he wants to be a starting pitcher again.

B.J. Ryan: The closer cast off by the Blue Jays last season saw his strikeout rate plummet and his walk rate skyrocket during his years in Toronto, a warning sign for any team interested in him. During his heyday, however, he had a strikeout-to-walk rate around 4.0 and had a sub-3.00 ERA as recently as two seasons ago. The Blue Jays still owe him $10 million next season, so he might come cheap as a flier if he's interested in a chance to redeem himself as a setup man.

Rafael Soriano: There are reports that the Red Sox have requested medical records on the Braves' hard-throwing closer, a 30-year-old with a career 2.92 ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.51. A year ago, he struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings, and he's flirted with 10.0 and 11.0 several other times during his career. He endured a heavy workload (75 2/3 innings in 77 appearances) a year ago and found himself hit hard by lefties (.746 OPS, though a .330 BABIP didn't help). Still, though, there's a chance he could do what the Red Sox have waited three years for Delcarmen to do -- be the team's primary shut-down reliever against righties.

Claudio Vargas: Another former starter who resurrected his career as a reliever, Vargas had a 1.78 ERA in 30 1/3 innings after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers a year ago. He's not a pitcher who will miss bats much, though, and he's more of a fly-ball pitcher than a ground-ball pitcher. It would be easy to attribute his success, in fact, to a spectacularly low .202 BABIP a year ago -- a mark he's not likely to replicate.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Putting pressure on Drew Brees

The consensus this week is that the Patriots can't blitz Drew Brees -- and the statistics bear that out. The Patriots can't sit back and let Brees stand in the pocket, either -- and the statistics bear that out, too.

"He's on fire right now," outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said, "and if you don't have any water to put it out, he's going to keep burning you up."

Check out the Brees profile on
* When Brees isn't pressured, he has a completion percentage of 74.6 and a quarterback rating of 115.7;
* When Brees is blitzed, he has a completion percentage of 64.8 and a quarterback rating of 87.6;
* When Brees is under pressure, he has a completion percentage of 45.8 and a quarterback rating of 71.7.

Translation: If the Patriots send corners or safeties on blitzes, Brees is going to burn them. But if they can get pressure on Brees with just four (or maybe five) pass-rushers, they're going to have a chance to force some bad throws.

"He makes quick decisions," Banta-Cain said. "He's got a quick release, so it's very tough and frustrating for a lot of defense because you can get to him and he's still getting the ball off. ...

"It's just a 'Hope for the best' type of thing. You can't say, 'Well, we don't want to blitz him' because now you're allowing him more time to get the ball off. It's just one of those things where you've got to execute at a high level -- and if there's a mistake somewhere in their front five, we take advantage of it."

The best way to do that will be by attacking left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, the two weak links on the Saints' offense line.

That's why Banta-Cain and Adalius Thomas are such keys for the Patriots. Banta-Cain had two sacks against the Jets and the all-but-dismissed Thomas played perhaps his best game of the season. Here's Thursday's Union Leader story for more on why the two linebackers are so key to the Patriots' game plan against Brees:


Thanksgiving came a few days early for Adalius Thomas this week.

“Certain games, you have good games – as we call it, you eat more than you do in other games,” the Pro Bowl linebacker said on Sunday.

Thomas, heading into last weekend, had been one of the Patriots’ biggest disappointments of the season. Inactive against Tennessee in Week 6, Thomas had just one tackle against Tampa Bay in Week 7 and didn’t do much in Week 10 in Indianapolis even after injuries to Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich.

He hadn’t, as they’d say, eaten all that much.

But Thomas feasted against the New York Jets on Sunday, finishing with a hit on the quarterback and a tackle for a loss in what might have been his best game in an otherwise disappointing season.

And with Thomas looking like he’s turned a corner, the Patriots’ corps of linebackers might be as solid as it has been all year. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo is healthy and making plays, Gary Guyton is growing into his role in the middle of the defense, and Banta-Cain has surprised almost everyone by growing into the Patriots’ best pass-rushing threat.

Highlights for Thomas, though, had been few and far between – until Sunday:

* With the Patriots leading 14-0, Thomas dropped running back Shonn Greene at the line of scrimmage for a one-yard gain on first down, and he drilled quarterback Mark Sanchez to force an incomplete pass on second down. The Patriots then forced an incompleted pass on third-and-9, and the Jets punted;

* After the Patriots extended their lead to 24-0, Thomas got in front of running back Thomas Jones as he tried to get around the edge – and when Jones cut back to the middle, nose tackle Vince Wilfork buried him;

* Two plays later, with wide receiver Brad Smith lined up behind center in the Jets’ version of the Wildcat, Thomas not only got in the face of Smith to force him to pitch the ball but also was in on the tackle of Greene four yards behind the line of scrimmage.

“I certainly made more plays today than I have in the past,” Thomas said on Sunday.

The re-emergence of Thomas couldn’t come at a better time. Most teams don’t blitz New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees because he’s so good at picking out weaknesses in the secondary. If Thomas and Banta-Cain, the Patriots’ primary pass-rushers, can do their jobs without any extra help, the Patriots can put pressure on him without exposing themselves elsewhere.

“He pretty much can pick up a defense and pick out the weak points and the strong points of every defense before the play is even snapped,” safety Brandon Meriweather said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

The better the Patriots’ linebackers can do their jobs, particularly in terms of pressuring Brees without blitzing, the better the chance the Patriots will have of slowing down the Saints’ high-powered offense. Two different running backs have at least 100 carries and 500 rushing yards this season, and three different receivers have at least 30 receptions and 450 receiving yards. That doesn’t even include Reggie Bush, a multifaceted threat who has 277 rushing yards and 207 receiving yards so far this season – and who drew a Marshall Faulk comparison from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“You’ve got to be careful of them matching up,” Belichick said. “They definitely put a lot of pressure on you on that. If you match up with them, you’ve got to do a good job with it. They don’t make it easy for you. And it’s not just getting the right people on the field, but then it’s also finding them because you don’t know where they are going to be. They mix that up a lot, too. They do a good job ‘formation-ing,’ even the normal formation that looks the same. They vary the receiver splits, they move the tight end around, so the same formation can look different on 10 different plays, it really can.”

The more complicated the offense, in many ways, the simpler the defense must be. The Patriots didn’t play well within their simplified defense in a loss at Denver – but, then again, the loss at Denver might have been the worst game Thomas has played since he joined the Patriots.

If the Pro Bowl linebacker can play against the Saints the way he played against the Jets, the Patriots might just do what they couldn’t do in Denver in Week 5 – or, for that matter, in Indianapolis in Week 10 or in New York in Week 2. They might just win.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Red Sox, Blue Jays to swap shortstops?

It had to be the Blue Jays.

Of all the teams that could have snapped up Alex Gonzalez this early in free agency, it had to be the Blue Jays.


The Blue Jays signed infielder John McDonald to a two-year deal on Wednesday, and word leaked on Thursday that the Blue Jays have signed former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez for $2.75 million in 2010 with a team option for $2.5 million in 2011.

Many have taken the news to mean that the Blue Jays won't offer salary arbitration to incumbent shortstop Marco Scutaro, a free agent who happens to fit exactly what the Red Sox are going to want in their next shortstop.

The move doesn't necessarily preclude an offer of arbitration -- Scutaro earned $1.1 million last season and wouldn't be awarded more than $3 million even by a friendly arbitrator, far from an impossible number to absorb. But it also doesn't make any sense for the Blue Jays to bring Gonzalez, McDonald, Scutaro and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to spring training next season with only two positions to split among them.

It's almost stunning, actually, that the Blue Jays would eliminate Scutaro as an option this early in free agency -- especially in favor of the light-hitting Gonzalez.

If the Red Sox can land Scutaro -- and the Boston Herald says they're at or near the top of his list -- they wouldn't just be replacing Gonzalez. They'd be upgrading on Gonzalez. Consider the head-to-head comparison:

Age on Opening Day
Gonzalez: 33
Scutaro: 34

Gonzalez: .238/.279/.355
Scutaro: .282/.379/.381

Gonzalez: .247/.294/.395
Scutaro: .265/.337/.384

Swinging at pitches out of the strike zone
Gonzalez: 37.1 percent
Scutaro: 12.3 percent*
*2nd in major leagues

Making contact with pitches in the strike zone
Gonzalez: 92.7 percent
Scutaro: 95.7 percent*
*5th in major leagues

Pitches per plate appearance
Gonzalez: 3.57 (3.54 in 2009)
Scutaro: 3.79 (4.06 in 2009)

Ultimate Zone Rating (per 150 games) at SS in 2009
Gonzalez: 10.5
Scutaro: 1.0

Fielding Bible plus-minus at SS in 2009
Gonzalez: minus-7
Scutaro: plus-16

Sure, Scutaro is a 34-year-old journeyman who just enjoyed a career year. But his peripherals -- including the fact that he's better than J.D. Drew at ignoring pitches out of the strike zone -- indicate that his on-base percentage isn't fluky.

He doesn't have to hit cleanup in the Red Sox batting order. He'd probably hit ninth most of the time. But he's a guy who would work deep into counts even from the bottom of the batting order and who could get on base in front of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. All indications are that he'd play a terrific defensive shortstop -- and third base, if necessary -- on top of that.

In a lot of ways, the Blue Jays' signing of Gonzalez this week is the best break the Red Sox could have gotten. It gives Theo Epstein a chance to make a huge upgrade at shortstop.

Halladay could be the next Schilling

Theo Epstein, as far as we know, is spending Thanksgiving this year in Brookline and not in Odessa, Fla., where Roy Halladay makes his offseason home.

But the Red Sox don't have to acquire Halladay over Thanksgiving dinner for the similarities to the Curt Schilling acquisition to surface.

Halladay will turn 33 years old early next season, after all, but Schilling had just turned 37 when he invited Epstein to his home for Thanksgiving and to work out an arrangement that would bring the ace to Boston. Particularly for pitchers with a track record of impeccable control, age doesn't seem to matter as much as it might for a hitter.

First things first: Schilling made his living off an elite strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Halladay has led the American League in strikeout-to-walk ratio in each of the past two seasons. Strikeout-to-walk ratio, as it turns out, is something many pitchers have maintained well into their 30s -- including Schilling:

K/BB ratio (MLB average this season was 2.0)
Halladay, age 29: 3.88*
Halladay, age 30: 2.90*
Halladay, age 31: 5.28*
Halladay, age 32: 5.94*

Schilling, age 29: 3.64
Schilling, age 30: 5.50
Schilling, age 31: 4.92
Schilling, age 32: 3.45
Schilling, age 33: 3.73
Schilling, age 34: 7.51*
Schilling, age 35: 9.58*
Schilling, age 36: 6.06
Schilling, age 37: 5.80*
*finished among top 5 in Cy Young voting

Schilling is a small sample with which to compare, however. Between 1995 and 2005, there were 24 occasions during which a pitcher had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 5.0 after he'd turned 30 years old. Every single one of those pitchers had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 2.0 -- in other words, above average -- the next season, and two-thirds of them had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3.0 three years later.

Strikeout-to-walk ratio, it appears, is something a pitcher can sustain -- and that makes Halladay a worthwhile acquisition if the Red Sox can sign him to some sort of contract extension the way they did with Schilling.

That's even, as painful as it might be, if the cost is Clay Buchholz.

(Look at it this way: If the Red Sox can acquire Halladay and sign him to a three-year contract extension, they'll have him under their control until he's 36 years old -- and a proven Halladay at 36 years old is still probably an upgrade on Buchholz. The price would be steep, but, as with Schilling, the Red Sox can afford to spend big on a front-line ace.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Replacing Mike Lowell: Adrian Beltre

If the Red Sox move any closer to signing Adrian Beltre to play third base and unloading Mike Lowell, you'll start to see more and more comparisons between the two. Some might even wonder if Beltre, a righthanded-hitting slugger, would put dents in the Green Monster the way Lowell has done for the past four seasons.

That, though, is not what the Red Sox would be signing Beltre to do.

Every move this season has to be examined through the lens of the criteria Theo Epstein laid out only a few days after the Angels eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs in October:
1. The Red Sox need to get better defensively.
2. The Red Sox need to get better at hitting on the road.

Beltre would serve both purposes.

First things first: Beltre can catch the ball as well as any third baseman in the game. He ranked third in the major leagues in plus-minus this season (plus-27) and third in the major leagues with 21 runs saved on defense. In 2008, he led the major leagues with a plus-32 and with 24 runs saved.

If you accept the sabermetric idea that 10 runs saved or created equal one win, Beltre is worth more than two wins with his defense alone.

Lowell, on the other hand, saw his range drop precipitously this season in the aftermath of a hip injury, and there's no guarantee it's coming back. He finished this season with a minus-23 and was credited with minus-17 runs saved -- meaning he cost the Red Sox almost two wins with his defense alone.

Replacing Lowell with Beltre at third base turns the Red Sox from a below-average defensive team at third base to an elite defensive team at third base -- and that could mean turning a 95-win team into a 99-win team.

But fans aren't going to judge the success of a move by its impact on defense -- not for a third baseman, the type of player who's supposed to hit.

Lowell made a living driving doubles off the Green Monster -- he OPS'ed .932 at home this season -- but saw his slugging percentage drop in a big way on the road (.713). Part of the reason the Red Sox acquired him was because he fit Fenway Park so well.

Beltre wouldn't be as great of a fit for the Green Monster -- and it's easy to look at his spray chart from 2008, his last healthy season, to see why:

Beltre can hit for power to all fields -- and not just to left field.

If you look closely at the chart, there actually aren't many doubles or fly balls that the Green Monster would turn into home runs, and there might be a few doubles or home runs that the cavernous right field at Fenway Park would turn into outs.

But here's the M. Night Shyamalan twist: The Red Sox don't need a hitter who can tattoo the Green Monster. No team in the American League had a higher home slugging percentage than the Red Sox's .498, and no team in the American League scored more runs than the Red Sox's 481 -- or 5.93 per game.

The Red Sox need a hitter who can do some damage on the road.

Playing his games at Seattle's Safeco field, Beltre OPS'ed a woeful .702 at home in 2008 and .646 in 2009. On the road, though, where everything evens out, Beltre has OPS'ed .862 and .717, respectively, in the past two seasons

If you want to give Beltre a break for this season because of his injuries, it's worth pointing out that only Victor Martinez, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis OPS'ed better than .850 on the road for the Red Sox season.

If you don't want to give Beltre a break for this season, well, at least he'd become one of the few hitters in the Red Sox lineup who seems to be at least as comfortable cruising around the American League as he is in his home ballpark.

Oh, and Beltre has a career .534 slugging percentage at Yankee Stadium.

The biggest reason to make the investment in Beltre would be for the defensive upgrade at third base. His numbers at the plate actually are remarkably similar to those of Lowell -- and, in terms of OPS+, he's actually a little bit worse than Lowell.

But if the Red Sox are looking for someone who can hit on the road -- and, of course, for someone who can catch the ball -- Beltre might be just the guy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A road map for Wes Welker

Boston Herald reporter Ron Borges asked a terrific question of Tom Brady after Sunday's 31-14 trouncing of the New York Jets. Darrelle Revis had all but taken Randy Moss out of the game -- his four-yard touchdown catch notwithstanding -- but the Jets, like most teams, had no answer for Wes Welker. Borges wanted to know what it was about Welker that made him so difficult to eliminate from the Patriots' offense.

Here's what Brady said:
"Well, when you line up in the slot, you have the whole field to work with. You can go short inside, short outside, long outside, long inside, you can stop at any point and you’re typically on the third DB that comes on the field. You’re a part of all the combinations with the running backs and the tight ends. It’s tough to do. You’ve got to see things very quickly. Wes is able to use his quickness to get open over the middle, in the flat, down the field.

"When you’re an outside guy, you’re usually against the better players and you have a really limited amount of field to work. So if they decide to really cover you, which [Kerry] Rhodes was typically over the top of Randy and then [Darrelle] Revis was on him – their two best players – then you’ve got to find other guys to work, and Wes really took advantage of it."

Patriots fans all know just how elusive Welker is and just how many different ways Brady can get him the ball. But we at One If By Land went back to the film to track the routes Welker ran in the first half against the Jets and get a sense for the different tactics he used to try to get open.

Here's the Welker road map -- with his eight first-half receptions highlighted as the darker lines:

And that's just in the first half.

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that opponents should start to double-team Welker and not double-team Moss.

But the Jets did that when Welker was over the middle, hitting him with linebackers and safeties when he tried to sit down in seams. They had no chance to double-team him, though, as long as he kept dodging and darting in different directions.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas comes early for Bodden

Mark Sanchez has a new favorite receiver, a speedster who always seems to know where the quarterback is going to throw the ball.

Oh, were all of those passes not intended for Leigh Bodden?

"I didn't know today was December 25th," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "Three fair catches?"

"I think it was a conspiracy or something," linebacker Pierre Woods said. "Three wide-open fair catches -- two were on a knee, and one was right there to him and he ran it in for a touchdown."

OK, so it wasn't the most challenging day for Bodden, who picked off a career-best three passes and returned one for his first career touchdown. It certainly was a rewarding day, though, especially for a player who previously had spent his career with the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. With the win, the Patriots moved three games ahead of the New York Jets and stayed two games ahead of the Miami Dolphins for first place in the AFC East.

The three interceptions Bodden had -- the same number of catches as Jets receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller -- had as much to do with the victory as anything else.

A quick rundown of the three interceptions:

* First quarter: Sanchez threw behind Cotchery on a third-and-8 pass along the left sideline. It appeared as though he expected the wide receiver to run a hitch or a curl and not to cut back toward the middle of the field, but Bodden also seemed to force Cotchery out of his intended route. Whatever the reason, Bodden turned before Cotchery turned and returned the interception for a touchdown.

* Second quarter: With Brandon McGowan coming around the edge on a blitz, Sanchez threw too far in front of Braylon Edwards down the left side. Wilhite appeared to be covering Edwards with Bodden sitting back in zone coverage, and the ball just hit him in the hands.

"The first two interceptions were just poor throws," Sanchez said. "Good reads. Poor throws."

* Fourth quarter: On perhaps the worst pass he threw all day, Sanchez had no pressure on him but still somehow threw a pass so inaccurate it was tough to tell whether it was intended for Cotchery or for Edwards. If it was intended for Cotchery, it was badly overthrown. If it was intended for Edwards, it was badly underthrown. If it was intended for Bodden, well, it was perfect.

The interception Sanchez threw to Brandon Meriweather later in the fourth quarter was his worst decision of the day, a floater that would have been better off landing in the second row of the stands than anywhere on the field. That, though, was a throw made under pressure and out of desperation -- it might have been the worst decision by Sanchez all day, but it wasn't the worst pass.

"The last two were definitely bad decisions," Sanchez said, "trying to do too much and not letting the offense work for me. ... I need to be smarter and more conservative with the football in those situations."

It was Bodden, coming on a corner blitz, who applied some of the pressure on that play, too, drilling Sanchez just after he released the ball.

"I saw the ball in his right hand," Bodden said, "and I thought I was coming to get a strip sack."

As it turned out, all he was coming to get was a helping hand in the Patriots' fourth interception of the game.

The Patriots review their opponents' turnovers every Saturday. With Sanchez, they had plenty of material with which to work. The Jets' rookie quarterback now has thrown 11 interceptions in his last five games -- including five in Week 6 against Buffalo and two more in Week 10 against Jacksonville.

"He's thrown some balls to guys, so we definitely knew we could get some of those today," Bodden said. "We just have to catch them. That's what one of my old coaches always said: You've just got to catch the ones that go to you."

That's what happened on Sunday. Most of the passes the Bills and Jaguars intercepted, though, took at least a little bit of effort and athletic ability on the part of the defensive backs. The three passes Bodden picked off all were thrown pretty much right to him.

"I really can't tell you if it was accuracy or what, but (Sanchez and his wide receivers) probably weren't on the same page," said Bodden, who wore a No. 23 Michael Jordan jersey to his postgame press conference.

When a reporter asked if the No. 23 should be retired, Bodden quipped, "Not here. Not yet. I've got to get a few more three-pick games -- and then maybe."

Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Jets 6

Leigh Bodden's two first-half interceptions -- he has as many catches as the Jets do -- are the big story early, but that's not it:

* Many prognosticators suggested that while New York cornerback Darrelle Revis could handle Randy Moss, the Jets had no one to deal with Wes Welker. They were right.

Welker has eight catches for 139 yards -- in the first half -- and has left cornerback Drew Coleman in his dust on more than a couple of occasions.

Early in the second quarter, Welker lined upon the right side of the Patriots' line next to Moss. When Moss came to a halt in his hitch route, Welker kept going -- and Coleman, Revis and Kerry Rhodes all converged on Moss. Welker waved frantically as he cruised into a wide-open seam, and Tom Brady hit him for a 43-yard gain. Laurence Maroney scored two plays later to give the Patriots a 21-0 lead.

* NFL Network's Rich Eisen tweeted midway through the second quarter, "Revis having brutal game for NYJ. In fact, the Jets may lead the league in talk not backed up."

At best, it's harsh. At worst, it's wrong. Revis actually is doing exactly what he needs to do -- and is a big part of the reason Welker has so many catches. The third-year cornerback broke up two of the first three passes thrown in the direction of Moss.

The first pass Moss caught, a four-yard touchdown pass from Brady, came on an almost instantaneous snap-and-throw that never gave Revis a chance to react. The longest pass Moss caught in the first half went for six yards.

Revis is doing his job on Moss.

* The Patriots suddenly look awfully thin on the offensive line. Second-string left tackle Sebastian Vollmer went to the sidelines with a head injury in the second quarter, and right tackle Nick Kaczur had to gut out the final play from scrimmage after Brady's helmet hit him in the knee. Rich Ohrnberger is the only reserve offensive lineman left, and one would presume Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins would move to tackle if Kaczur is unable to go in the second half.

On the bright side, third-string left tackle Mark LeVoir promptly decimated Jets cornerback Donald Strickland on a wide-receiver screen. On the dark side -- that is the opposite of bright side, right? -- linebacker Bart Scott cruised past LeVoir to hit Brady late in the second quarter, the hit that ended up injuring Kaczur.

* Linebacker Adalius Thomas had been all but forgotten by Patriots fans. Several talk-radio hosts have insisted that Thomas is a lock to be released after the season given how disappointed Patriots coaches seem to be with his play.

Today, though, might be Thomas' best game of the season.

The linebacker started the game in place of Tully Banta-Cain, who the Patriots seemed to be easing back into things after he missed most of the Indianapolis game as well as two of the taem's three practices this week. When Banta-Cain came back into the game, it was Pierre Woods who sat down and Thomas who stayed on the field.

He dropped Shonn Green for a gain of just a yard on the Jets' first play of the second quarter, and he followed that up by drilling Mark Sanchez just as he was throwing on the very next play.

On the Jets' next series, Thomas got into the backfield to force Thomas Jones back inside and into the waiting arms of Vince Wilfork. And when the Jets gave the Wildcat a try, inserting Brad Smith at quarterback to pitch to Green, Thomas combined with Wilfork for a four-yard loss.

Neal, Green among Patriots' inactives

His name doesn't show up on the stat sheet all that often, but Stephen Neal might be the most significant of the Patriots' inactives against the Jets. The veteran right guard has been the best at his position in the NFL so far this season -- he's at his best as a run-blocker, but he's allowed just two sacks and one hit on the quarterback all season, too.

He'll be replaced by Dan Connolly, who allowed one quarterback pressure and drew negative ratings for his play in place of Neal against Indianapolis a week ago.

Sammy Morris, too, remains inactive with a knee injury. It'll be the fourth straight game Morris has missed -- and his physical running style is something the Patriots could have used in their short-yardage situations against Indianapolis a week ago. Some had expected Morris to return based on his participation in practice this week, but he'll instead spend the afternoon in street clothes.

The Patriots' defense, though, received some good news: Both Tully Banta-Cain and Ty Warren are active despite injuries that limited them in practice this week. Banta-Cain didn't practice at all until Friday thanks to the groin injury that knocked him out in the first quarter against the Colts, and Warren missed the Colts game with an ankle injury.

The rotation along the defensive line will be interesting to watch: Warren is and has always been a starter, but the Patriots seem to be liking the play of rookie Myron Pryor more and more. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pryor, Wilfork and Warren all on the field at the same time in a 3-4 scheme -- or for Pryor and Wilfork to play together at defensive tackle with Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess flanking them.

One moderate surprise: Veteran cornerback Shawn Springs participated fully in practice all week and was listed as probable on the injury report, a sign a player is almost certainly going to play. The scratch might or might not be related to injury -- and it might be a sign of how far down on the depth chart Springs has fallen in the Patriots' defensive backfield.

Springs had his worst game of the season against Miami two weeks ago and was not active against Indianapolis. He's also not going to contribute as much on special teams as the younger and faster Terrence Wheatley, another possible reason for the decision.

Wilhite has put loss to Colts behind him

Jonathan Wilhite isn't going to pretend that he can ignore plays at will, that he'd completely forgotten the game-winning touchdown catch he surrendered to Reggie Wayne by the time he got on the plane in Indianapolis late Sunday night.

"You wouldn't be a football player if you didn't think about it," the second-year cornerback said. "Wayne made a good catch, and Peyton (Manning) made a good throw. It happens in football."

A cornerback, though, has to have a short memory -- and the Patriots do short memory as well as anyone.

"You can't succeed without it," Wilhite said. "If you're worried about what happened (last) week, that means you're not giving the Jets your full attention."

The Jets certainly merit attention.

Wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards both are averaging better than 15.0 yards per reception this season. Cotchery has more receiving yards against the Patriots than any other team in the NFL. (He's averaging 56.1 yards per game against the Patriots -- and just 45.6 yards per game against Buffalo and 35.4 yards per game against Miami.)

Edwards has brought a new dimension to the Jets' offense that wasn't there in Week 2, a big and physical wide receiver who can outmuscle smaller cornerbacks.

"He's a good receiver -- I knew that since I watched him in college," Wilhite said. "He can stretch the field, and he can make big plays."

The job of Wilhite will be to limit those big plays.

According to the film analysis experts at, Wilhite hasn't made a positive impact in pass coverage since Week 5 at Denver. His minus-3.7 mark overall ranks him 67th among cornerbacks in the NFL -- and behind Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler among cornerbacks on the Patriots.

He's become one of the team's top cornerbacks, but he wasn't exactly satisfied with the way he handled Manning and Wayne a week ago.

"All you can do is try to make a play," Wilhite said. "Sometimes, you're not going to always be in good position to try to make plays, but we did that. We just didn't make enough plays."

Revis-Moss a key matchup today

Whether he had help from his safeties in Week 2 or not – something that became a point of contention in a conference call with reporters this week – it’s clear that New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has no doubt he can cover Randy Moss one-on-one.

Both Moss and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have suggested that Revis limited the Patriots’ best vertical receiver to four catches for a season-low 24 yards mostly because he had help in the secondary. Revis, though, has the skills to shut down Moss one-on-one – and his ability to do so today might be the difference in the game.

“They know how we’re going to line him up,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “They know how we’re going to play him. Darrelle Revis gives us an opportunity on defense to do what other defenses can’t do and that’s to really get after it. He’s a special player. He doesn’t back down from any challenge, and obviously Randy Moss is a huge challenge.”

It’s almost impossible for opponents to double-team both Moss and Wes Welker, receivers with vastly different styles, without leaving virtually all the Patriots’ other weapons unguarded. If Revis can defend Moss by himself, though, he frees up a safety to double-team Welker or a linebacker to go after Tom Brady.

Most cornerbacks can’t handle Moss one-on-one.

Revis, however, is not most cornerbacks.

“Randy Moss is the best vertical receiver in football,” Ryan said. “We have the best corner in football.”

According to the film analysts at, only New Orleans’ Jabari Greer has had the ball thrown in his direction as often as Revis while allowing a smaller percentage of completions. Quarterbacks throwing the ball in his direction have a rating of 47.5 – which is less than the rating Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell had before he was benched this week.

The 63-yard touchdown pass Moss caught from Brady against Indianapolis was just another example of what it takes to defend Moss one-on-one.

Revis, though, is unique in his ability to do just that – no matter what Moss or Belichick might say.

“Everyone saw the game,” Revis said. “Everybody knows I was in man coverage. That was the case. (Moss) is supposed to say that because (that day) wasn’t his day. He got shut out and was frustrated about it, which is cool. I don’t have anything against him. I still think he’s one of the best receivers in the league. When we go up against each other, it’s great competition.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Top prospect Kalish just keeps on keeping on

Outfielder Josh Reddick entered the consciousness of casual Red Sox fans a year ago when he made the jump from Double-A to the major leagues to make some appearances in the Red Sox outfield.

Ryan Kalish might be next in line.

The Red Sox drafted Kalish in the ninth round in 2006, the same season in which they drafted Reddick in the 17th round and Lars Anderson in the 18th round. Much like with Anderson, the Red Sox took a flier on a top talent who was considered a solid commit to a big-time college -- Kalish had a chance to play both football and baseball at Virginia -- and lured him to sign with a six-figure signing bonus.

Kalish jumped from Single-A to Double-A this season and just wrapped up a stint in the Arizona Fall League in which he hit .301 with a .384 on-base percentage in 73 at-bats. I caught up with him on the phone on Tuesday, a couple of days before his Mesa Solar Sox finished their season.

What's the biggest thing you've learned out in Arizona?
It’s just the level of competition you have to keep up with. There are so many good players out here. It shows you you need to work harder –- or try to work harder –- than everybody else. I’m seeing things I only see sometimes during the regular season. Every player has a chance to do something extremely special every time they come up or are on the mound. That’s the level of competition I’m dealing with, so I just have to keep working hard.

Was that a surprise or is that what you expected?
That’s what I came here expecting. Honestly, I’ve always known there were good players out there, and I’ve always known I had to work hard. This just reiterates the fact that it’s really true.

Did you have a certain focus for what you wanted to accomplish out there?
Well, I did what I needed to do during the season. Coming out here, I just wanted to have continued success – and I don’t look at my success by numbers. I look at success by my at-bats, like if I am seeing the ball well. Every single day, I’m seeing a No. 1 or a No. 2 or a really good reliever out of the pen, and that can only be a benefit for next year. Aaron Bates and Josh Reddick struggled here. It’s a testament to them that they came back this year -– and look at what happened to them in getting to the big leagues. For me, it’s not the success. It’s the experience. They’re both great players, but this helped them get to the big leagues. I’m positive of that.

Is there anything you specifically wanted to work on?
I just wanted to keep it up. The things I was working on during the season are never going to change. You’re always going to see flaws in the things you do, and you’ve got to be able to pick them out. My goal is to keep continuing to get better on the things I did this year. I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been having some pretty good at-bats over the past few weeks, and it’s been a tough thing for me here because you sometimes get two or three days off in a row before you go out there and play. It’s tough to keep a rhythm that way. But that’s just aprt of this league. I don’t think many people are looking so much at the numbers as the experience.

Is it difficult, after a long season, to still play at a high level like this in November?
Well, I played in Hawaii last year. It’s about how much you want it, really. You’re going to have to come out here with the drive and want to keep it up. You’ve got to keep going, and you’ve got to keep moving. There are guys playing in the Dominican and Venezuela who are in the same boat. That’s part of the experience. I don’t spend a lot of time at home in the offseason – and especially when you’re a so-called prospect, you’re not going to be home as much.

Have you been able to pick up anything playing with the guys in other organizations on your roster?
Meeting Bryan Peterson, he and I have really struck it off well. I’ve gotten a lot of things from him, and we’ve given each other some things. I always like to meet new people because we can just pick up little things from each other. We’ve talked about some little things at the plate. It’s nothing like, ‘I don’t like your swing,’ because we have totally different ways of hitting. But it’s all about getting better at the game. He’s leading the league in average, I think, and to make friends with a guy like that, we’ve helped each other get better.

(When this interview was conducted, Peterson was leading the league in hitting. The Florida Marlins prospect finished the Arizona Fall League season with a .379 batting average, fourth among all hitters out there.)

In the outfield, he’s helped me with my throwing. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that my arm looks a little bit stronger, and the things we’ve talked about have increased my arm strength.

When do you have those conversations? Is it in the cage or during outfield drills or during games?
It’s the whole time – during our throwing program when we’re getting loose before a game or when we’re taking infield and outfield. It’s an all-the-time thing. During the game, I’ll go up to him and ask him, ‘Hey, do you think that was the right play?’ He’ll tell me straight up. People are going to be out there trying to help me, but some people fish for compliments – and we’re straight up with each other. He comes up to me and asks, ‘Do you think that’s a strike?’, maybe, on a pitch he took. I’ll tell him, ‘Yeah, I think it was.’

When you look back at yourself as a player a year ago and compare it to yourself as a player now, what's the biggest difference?
I had a more aggressive approach than it used to be. Between 2008 and 2009, my strikeout numbers stayed the same. My ratio in 2009 was actually a little bit better –- well, you can check that out. But I had a more aggressive approach. This year, I was trying to drive the ball more. In 2008, I was just trying to make contact and flick balls over the infielders’ heads. I had more of a mental approach this year where, ‘If I see this pitch, I’m going to absolutely destroy it,’ and that definitely helps me. My power went up this year, and, hopefully, that will continue.

You've only hit one home run in Arizona. Is there anything you can attribute that to, or is that something you don't worry about?
It might be the competition. It might be not getting into a rhythm. But I’m not really worried about it. It’s just an experience.

You told Baseball Prospectus that your teammates call you a caveman because of the way you try not to think too much. Where does that come from?
A lot of it comes from my approach as a football player. If you get caught in the numbers – your failure rate is going to be more than your success rate, so I just feel like I’ve got to go out there and try to attack the pitch and drive the ball. It’s difficult going out there and always looking up at the scoreboard and seeing what I’m doing. That’s not who I am as a player. I want to go up to the plate and think about hitting the ball hard – if it goes over the fence or goes back to the pitcher. It’s not about hits. If you just think about hits, you’re not going to succeed in this game.

That seems like it could be easier said than done. How do you make that happen?
For me, I’m really good at it just because this is a game. I’m playing baseball for a living. It’s not that having a desk job would stink, but in my life, I’m not ready for that. There are guys fighting a war in Iraq, and it’s like, ‘Really? We’re playing a game. It’s not that big of a deal.’ I’m really enjoying everything, and if I keep things in perspective, it’s pretty easy not to get caught up in all the numbers.

What do you feel like you have to do to make the type of jump that Josh Reddick made last year?
The same exact thing I did this year. I’ve been keeping it simple, and that’s what I want to do. I want to stick with my aggressive approach. You’re always going to have adjustments to your swing, but I want to continue to have the success I had last year. My focus is to keep it up exactly the way it’s been going.

What's the plan from here? What do you do the rest of the winter?
It’s been a long season, but while I’ve been out here, my lifting schedule – all of my working out has been a little bit lax because we don’t really have a gym. I’m going to live in the weight room as soon as I get home. I’m going to take three or four weeks from all baseball activity, but as soon as I get home, I’m living in the gym for 24 hours. I’m going to get strengthened up and get my speed going, do my speed work. I want to be able to play all three positions at all times, and you have to be fast to play center field. I’ll be working out hard.

Is that different from last year, or is that something you usually do?
It’s the same thing as last year. I didn’t really take any time off coming out of Hawaii. I did some light workouts while I was there, but this year, it’s the same thing – I’ll go home and get strong and get fast and get ready for the season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Former QBs thriving as WRs for Patriots

Julian Edelman doesn't mind talking trash with Isaiah Stanback.

"We've talked the experience of playing quarterback," Edelman said, "and we have that little competitive edge: 'I can throw the ball better than you."

But while the Patriots' two former quarterbacks have different roles at wide receiver -- Edelman is more of an inside receiver while Stanback is more of an outside guy -- both have the similar advantage of having seen the field from the perspective of the passer.

"(Stanback) has a better than average feel for how to come open, when to come open on certain routes and what the quarterback’s looking at," Belichick said. (He was asked specifically about Stanback, but he could have just as easily have been talking about Edelman.) "For anybody that’s played quarterback, you know it doesn’t really help you for a receiver to come open when either you can’t or you’re not ready to throw them him the ball. ...

"On the other hand, it’s better if a receiver is open when you are ready to throw regardless if it’s the exact route that you’re trying to run. Maybe it’s a little bit shorter, maybe it’s a little bit wider, maybe it’s not perfect -- but if he’s open at the right time, that’s a lot better than being open at the wrong time. There’s a sense of timing and spacing that an instinctive player at both of those positions understands and does."

Edelman, for his part, brushed off the idea that he was a more instinctive wide receiver because he'd played quarterback in college.

"It helps, but this isn't college," Edelman said. "This is a different level. I'm still learning every day. I have a lot to learn."

He's doing just fine so far.

The touchdown pass he caught in the second quarter against Indianapolis, in fact, might be the best evidence of those instincts. Edelman lined up in the slot and ran a route that took him toward the sideline -- but when Robert Mathis beat right tackle Nick Kaczur to get some pressure on Tom Brady, Edelman broke out his route and did whatever he could to get open for his quarterback.

Here's what the initial routes looked like for the Patriots' four wide receivers on the field:

When Mathis got into the backfield, though, Edelman cut back away from the sideline and sprinted back toward the middle of the field, a yard or two deep in the end zone. It almost certainly was not where he was supposed to be based on the way the play was designed -- but it was exactly where he was supposed to be based on what his quarterback needed:

Stanback actually broke off his route first and made the same sprint across the middle. Brady, though, still was shaking off Mathis and wasn't yet ready to throw. But when both Colts' safeties went with Stanback, anticipating a pass to him, and that left Edelman with an opening on the left side of the field.

It was just the way you'd expect two quarterbacks to play wide receiver -- getting open any way they could.

Edelman and Stanback weren't the only two wide receivers to break off their routes to get open, of course. Wes Welker initially cut to the outside but drifted back into the middle of the field, finding a seam six or seven yards past the line of scrimmage.

The ability of Welker to find gaps in the defense fits naturally with the instincts of Edelman and Stanback to get open. The Patriots didn't have that in Week 2 against the Jets, and it'll help Brady immensely to have two instinctive slot receivers when the Jets throw their blitzes at him.

"It's great to play with Wes Welker," Edelman said. "Just watching him every day in practice and seeing him in the game, a lot of the (defensive) guys go to him, and it opens you up because he's such a huge part of our offense."

And Edelman, who drew comparisons to Welker before he ever took the field for the Patriots, has mad sure to pick up everything he can from one of the NFL's most productive receivers.

"Little things, like how he practices -- watching a guy go 100 miles an hour every time in practice so he can be used to going that fast," Edelman said. "How he recognizes the defense. How he runs a route a certain way here and there -- and how he runs it differently the next time. Things like that are how you get better because you're learning new stuff, and you're seeing him do different things."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Red Sox face Rule V draft deadline

With the Rule V draft scheduled for Dec. 10, offered a detailed look today at the decisions the Red Sox face with their 40-man roster. The Red Sox have until Friday to add minor leaguers with four years of professional experience -- in most cases, anyway -- to their 40-man roster to protect them from being selected by other teams.

Most of the names on the list, of course, aren't players whose departure would devastate Red Sox fans. Most of the top prospects in the Red Sox system either already are on the 40-man roster -- i.e. Felix Doubront -- or will be by the time they have four full seasons of professional experience.

A handful of intriguing names, though, could be out there if the Red Sox don't deem them worthy of taking up a spot on their 40-man roster:

* Randor Bierd (SP): The righty had a 4.55 ERA in 25 appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket this season, his first in the Red Sox organization. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen with the PawSox but has made seven starts in the Arizona Fall League, compiling a 6.04 ERA for the Mesa Solar Sox. If the Red Sox sent him to Arizona to decide whether or not they'd be protecting him, well, they might do the same

* Bryce Cox (RP): A former third-round pick in 2006, Cox had a 2.88 ERA at Double-A Portland this season -- but, as a 24-year-old in Double-A, he's edging closer and closer to non-prospect territory. It seems unlikely that the Red Sox would use a spot on their 40-man roster for a 24-year-old relief pitcher who hasn't yet thrown a pitch in Triple-A.

* Zac Daeges (OF): An ankle injury all but ruined last season for Daeges, but he already was a 25-year-old playing in Triple-A for the first time. He's hit everywhere he's gone -- his career on-base percentage in the minor leagues is .411 -- and if the Red Sox see him as a late-blooming on-base machine in the mold of Kevin Youkilis, you'd better believe they'll hang onto him.

* Jorge Jimenez (3B): The 25-year-old corner infielder hit a career-best 13 home runs this season for Double-A Portland, but he doesn't seem to have the power you'd normally expect from a third baseman in the major leagues. That could work to the advantage of the Red Sox, as teams don't traditionally spend Rule V picks on corner infielders who don't yet hit for much power.

* Kris Johnson (SP): A former first-round draft pick, the righty went to spring training with the Red Sox last spring on the heels of a season in which he had a 3.63 ERA at Double-A Portland. But he endured a disastrous season this season. He had a 6.35 ERA in 25 starts split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was little better than 1.5.

* Richie Lentz (RP): The Red Sox sent the 25-year-old Lentz to Arizona this fall to give him a chance to bounce back from a season in which he had a 6.75 ERA at Double-A Portland thanks in large part to an exceptionally high walk rate. So far in Arizona, Lentz has a 1.98 ERA and a 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 2/3 innings pitched, but that means the Red Sox have to decide whether his high walk numbers this season are any more or less fluky than his impressive numbers with the Mesa Solar Sox.

* Yamaico Navarro (SS): The most likely candidate to be protected, Navarro hit .319 and OBP'ed .373 as a 22-year-old at Single-A Salem last season and could be a factor in the team's future plans at either shortstop or third base. If the Red Sox add him to their roster, he could be a late-season promotion this season -- think Gil Velazquez in seasons past.

No time, no chance

Check out Tuesday's Union Leader for a look at how the pressure brought by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis forced the Patriots to speed up their tempo in the second half -- and the part the pressure played in the game-changing fourth-and-2 stop.

According to unofficial stopwatch work done by this reporter, Brady averaged 2.33 seconds between the snap and the release of the ball on his six drop-backs in the first quarter. He averaged 1.76 seconds from snap to release on his 12 drop-backs in the fourth quarter.

Even when the Patriots went to the play-action in the fourth quarter, they did so with short passes in mind -- two screen passes to Wes Welker and a short completion to Welker in the flat.

Brady held the ball for 3.4 seconds -- again, obviously, an unofficial number -- when he hit Randy Moss for a deep pass to set up the Patriots' first touchdown in the first quarter.

That was a luxury he didn't have in the fourth quarter. He held the ball for 1.8 seconds on the third-down incompletion in the direction of Welker, and he held the ball for 1.4 seconds on the fourth-down pass to Faulk that came up short of the yellow line.

If he'd held the ball for any longer, though, he'd have been drilled -- keep an eye on Freeney at the top of the screen during the game's decisive play.

No time. No chance.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leftover lessons from Patriots-Colts

While the vultures circle around Bill Belichick this week -- even as evidence suggests he might have actually been playing the percentages after all -- it's easy to overlook some of the other lessons we learned during the Patriots' 35-34 loss in Indianapolis:

* The Colts can't defend Randy Moss. The Jets (with Darrelle Revis, the best cover corner in the NFL) remain a tough matchup for Moss. But the Colts' rookie corners had no chance to cover Moss deep -- as evidenced by his 63-yard touchdown reception -- and gave no indication they'd have any chance to do better if the two teams met again.

* The Patriots can defend Dallas Clark. Brandon McGowan did quite a bit of it. Darius Butler and Patrick Chung did their part, too. It was a total team effort, but the Patriots made the Colts' star tight end a virtual non-factor. Clark caught four passes for 65 yards, but he also was virtually invisible during the second and third quarters of the game.

* The Patriots can't necessarily defend Clark and Reggie Wayne at the same time. Credit has to go, of course, to Wayne and Peyton Manning. A couple of the passes Wayne caught were perfect throws from Manning, and there was nothing the Patriots' corners could have done. But the Patriots focused quite a bit on Clark, and that allowed Wayne to run free a little bit.

If they had a Revis-type cover corner, they could afford to do that, but they don't: Leigh Bodden ranked 23rd among cornerbacks entering play Sunday, according to, and while he's been a huge upgrade on Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal, he got beat clean by Pierre Garcon in the third quarter for a touchdown.

* The Patriots are getting dangerously thin along the line of scrimmage. Bill Belichick had no update Monday on the head injury suffered by Stephen Neal during Sunday's second half, but if Neal misses any length of time, the Patriots could be in trouble. Center Dan Koppen was a game-day decision on Sunday, and left tackle Matt Light now has missed a month with a knee injury. Neal might be the most difficult to replace, though: He entered the weekend as the best offensive guard in football.

On the other side, Jarvis Green and Ty Warren both were deactivated against the Colts, and pass-rushing linebacker Tully Banta-Cain left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. The emergence of Myron Pryor and the steadiness of Mike Wright mitigates the issue a little bit, but the Patriots are running out of bodies to play alongside star nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

(This has less to do with the line of scrimmage, but did anyone notice how little Adalius Thomas did in the game even after Banta-Cain and journeyman Rob Ninkovich -- the Patriots' first two options at outside linebacker, apparently -- were injured?)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stunning decision dooms Patriots

You can see the surprise in the eyes of Tom Brady.

The Patriots' quarterback had just thrown an incomplete pass toward Wes Welker along the sideline on third-and-2, a pass that appeared to force the Patriots to punt the ball back to Peyton Manning and the Colts with a little more than two minutes to go in Sunday's game. He was on his way to the sideline, his head down slightly, his left hand already on his chinstrap. He looked exactly like a quarterback who was ready to see the punt team take the field.

"You just have to punt it there," former Colts coach Tony Dungy said during NBC's postgame show.

"He has to punt the ball," former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said a few minutes later.

Brady stopped suddenly, still a few feet short of the sideline. He even seemed to hesitate for a moment. His eyes were wide, the disbelief obvious.

He then turned around and began to signal with both hands to the other offensive players who were walking off the field, to signal that the Patriots were going to go for it.

"They just said, 'We're going,'" Brady said later, insisting -- upon having had a chance to digest everything -- he wasn't surprised by the decision.

The Patriots were going to go for it on fourth down from deep in their own territory, to risk giving Manning a short field with which to try to score a touchdown, with the potential payoff a chance to kneel down and finish the game. A punt would have handed Manning the ball regardless -- but it would have handed him the ball 60 or more yards from the end zone rather than 29.

The Patriots lined up to go for it, and it looked for a moment as though they'd only lined up to try to force the Colts to burn one of their own timeouts. After they'd called timeout -- their third timeout of the game, no small factor -- they lined up once again, and they went for it.

"You start to get a little nervous because you might get a short field, but the game might be over," Manning said.

The Patriots gambled big, and they lost big. Kevin Faulk, who had played a sensational game to that point, juggled Brady's fourth-down pass just long enough for the Colts to drive him back behind the 30-yard line. There was no question he came up short of the first down -- and four plays later, Reggie Wayne scored the game-winning touchdown.

It was a decision that took unbelievable guts. But it was a decision that cost the Patriots a chance to host the Colts at Gillette Stadium in a possible rematch in the playoffs. It was a decision that will reverberate for the rest of the season -- and, if the Colts oust the Patriots in the playoffs, even longer than that.

And the body language of Brady demonstrated that he was just as baffled by the decision as anyone else.

"We had an opportunity to win the game," Brady said.

"If we get it, it's a great call," tight end Ben Watson said.

They didn't get it.

It probably cost them a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Patriots thin along defensive line

Vince Wilfork has shown off his versatility in recent weeks, playing a handful of games at defensive end as well as at his traditional nose tackle position. With Jarvis Green and Ty Warren both listed as inactives on the Patriots' injury report, Wilfork might have to show off that ability again.

The Patriots are down to four healthy defensive linemen -- and one of those is rookie Ron Brace, a second-round pick whose limited use this season doesn't exactly scream out that the coaching staff has confidence in him. This means the Patriots could go one of three ways:

* They could play their traditional 3-4 scheme with Mike Wright at one end and either Wilfork at the nose or Myron Pryor at end or vice versa;
* They could go back to the 4-3 they played earlier this season with Wright and Wilfork at defensive tackle flanked by Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess at defensive end, leaving Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas to take most of the snaps at linebacker; or
* They could play most of the game in a nickel or dime formation with Brandon McGowan as a fifth defensive back in place of a true defensive lineman.

It's an interesting dilemma. Banta-Cain has played his best football when he's been lined up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation, and Thomas likewise seems to have turned a corner since the Patriots went back to that same formation.

But if the Patriots were to play a true 3-4, any injury along the defensive line would force Brace into an every-down role -- and two injuries would force the Patriots to start playing their linebackers out of position.

The presence of Dallas Clark likely means McGowan will see the field on almost every snap -- especially in passing situations. The best solution might be for Wilfork and Wright to handle the bulk of the duties on the defensive line by themselves and for the Patriots to use their linebackers and defensive backs both in coverage and to send blitzers at Peyton Manning from every direction.

In a lot of ways, the deactivation of Green and Warren makes the Patriots just a little bit more unpredictable -- and that actually could give them an edge.

Key matchups along the line of scrimmage

Bill Belichick loves to get immobile quarterbacks on the run. Heck, any good defensive coach loves to get immobile quarterbacks on the run. It's the best way to get even the most precise passers to start throwing uncharacteristic interceptions. The Colts, too, will be looking for ways to get to Tom Brady and get him out of the pocket and moving around -- just as Belichick and the Patriots will be trying to do to Peyton Manning.

With that in mind, here's a look -- with the help of -- at some of the key matchups along the line of scrimmage and the matchups each team hopes to exploit:

Getting to Peyton Manning
* OLB Tully Banta-Cain against LT Charlie Johnson.
Johnson, a fourth-year left tackle, surrendered two sacks and five quarterback pressures in a miserable game against Mario Williams and the Houston Texans a week ago. For the season, Johnson has allowed 17 quarterback pressures in eight games and ranks near the bottom among offensive tackles.

Banta-Cain, meanwhile, has been a revelation as a pass-rushing linebacker. He ranks with the best in the league in hits on the quarterback -- only Anthony Spencer, Aaron Kampman, DeMarcus Ware and Lamarr Woodley have more. Overall, he ranks as the third-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL this season behind only Harrison and Ware.

* DE Mike Wright against LG Ryan Lilja
Lilja has tended to perform better this season as a run-blocker, but he's had his two best games in pass protection in the last two weeks. He allowed zero sacks and zero quarterback pressures against the Texans.

Wright saw his role diminished by the emergence of Myron Pryor and didn't have a spectacular game against the Dolphins when the injury to Jarvis Green bumped him back into the starting lineup. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, however, Wright was the best pass-rusher the Patriots had, recording two sacks, one hit on the quarterback and two other quarterback pressures.

Getting to Tom Brady
* DE Dwight Freeney against LT Sebastian Vollmer
With Matt Light unlikely to play, duty on the Colts' pass-rushing demon falls to Vollmer, a rookie who has handled himself awfully well so far this season. He actually has the third-best rating among Patriots' offensive linemen and has had three straight impressive games since he took over as the starter.

But he hasn't yet played against Freeney, who has 10 sacks, nine hits on the quarterback and a whopping 26 pressures so far this season. He's been the best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL so far this season -- and he's the toughest test Vollmer has faced yet.

* DE Robert Mathis against right tackle Nick Kaczur and right tackle Steve Neal
Statistically, Kaczur and Neal have been the Patriots' two best pass-blocking offensive linemen, though Kaczur seems to have stumbled of late in that department. Neal has spent the season as the Patriots' most consistent offensive player -- but that means he often finds himself standing around with not much to do as opposing teams opt not to go after him on passing downs.

Mathis almost certainly will go after Kaczur -- and if he can wreak half the havoc on Kaczur that he did on Arizona right tackle Levi Brown in Week 3 (one sack, three quarterback hits, eight quarterback pressures), Brady might be in trouble.

* Colts linebackers against Laurence Maroney
As frustrating as it's been for Patriots fans to watch Maroney run the ball, he's actually been worse this season when he's been trying to block for Brady. If the Colts send a blitzer that's assigned to Maroney, that blitzer might not have much issue getting to Brady.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

ETAs of the top Red Sox prospects

As the Red Sox weigh their options for the winter -- signing Jason Bay long-term, for example, or trading prospects for Adrian Gonzalez or Roy Halladay -- they'll do so with an eye on the farm system that has pumped out as much talent as any over the last five years or so.

Jon Lester already is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, and Clay Buchholz is poised to join him. Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best relief pitchers in the major leagues, and Daniel Bard is poised to join him. Dustin Pedroia is one of the best middle infielders in the major leagues, and Jed Lowrie -- well, Lowrie probably needs to stay healthy for a full season first.

But the fact remains that the Red Sox will make all of their decisions with their farm system in mind -- and that means it's worth looking ahead at when some of those prospects might make their debuts at Fenway Park:

Lars Anderson, 1B
Who he is: If you haven't heard of Anderson, you were living under a rock a year ago at this time. If you haven't given up on Anderson, you're a rare breed among Red Sox fans. The first baseman saw his numbers plummet across the board in his first season : He hit .233 and slugged just .345, and given the publicity he received during the Mark Teixeira saga, most Red Sox fans wrote him off as yet another bust.

When he'll get to Boston: Midseason call-up, 2011.

Why he matters: His age, first and foremost -- he only turned 22 after the minor-league season ended, and that means he's still got plenty of room to grow. Heck, it's worth comparing him with the first baseman after whom the Red Sox now seem to lust and what he did as a 21-year-old playing in Double-A three years after he first was drafted:
* Anderson: .233 batting, .328 on-base, .345 slugging
* Gonzalez: .269 batting, .327 on-base, .365 slugging
A year later, Gonzalez hit .304/.364/.457 as a 22-year-old at Triple-A Oklahoma and made his first cameo in the major leagues. The Red Sox almost certainly will start Anderson back in Double-A and give him a chance to show last season was the type of fluke his career numbers make it seem it was.

Jose Iglesias, SS
Who he is:
Seeing as how he's already being touted as the solution to the Red Sox revolving door at shortstop, it's important to remember he's not yet 20 years old. Still, though, his glove reportedly already is major-league ready, and if Texas' 21-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus is named Rookie of the Year in the coming days, some will jump to the conclusion that Iglesias might only be a year or so away from the Red Sox roster.

Again, though, it's worth looking closer at the comparison. Andrus was 16 years old when he made his professional debut, hitting .295 and OBP'ing .377 for the Atlanta Braves' Rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League. He was 19 years old when he played a full season at Double-A Frisco in the Rangers' organization. Iglesias, on the other hand, will be 20 years old when he makes his professional debut -- his Arizona Fall League tenure aside -- and still needs to take the minor leagues level-by-level.

A more apt comparison might be Orlando Cabrera, who made his pro debut in the Expos' system as a 19-year-old in 1994 and got his first cup of coffee in the major leagues as a 22-year-old in 1997.

When he'll get to Boston: Opening Day, 2012. (The Red Sox signed him to a major-league contract -- and that means he only can be optioned to the minor leagues three times -- in 2010, 2011 and 2012.)

Why he matters: It's not as if the Red Sox are eager in any way to trade away Jed Lowrie. His injury history has torpedoed his value, and the Red Sox still believe Lowrie can be their everyday shortstop. But the presence of Iglesias deep in the farm system means the Red Sox can think short-term at the position -- insert obligatory Marco Scutaro reference here -- with an eye on Iglesias taking over at the position in three or four years.

Ryan Kalish, OF
Who he is:
He's the next big name to play his way onto the radar of casual Red Sox fans. After a miserable start at Double-A Portland, Kalish OPS'ed .855 in July, .867 in August and 1.280 in 26 at-bats in September. (He hit three home runs in the final week of the season.)

He even stole a team-best 14 bases and was caught just three times, and he split time defensively between center field and left field.

(With a little bit of luck there should be a Q&A with Kalish in this space in the next week.)

When he'll get to Boston: Opening Day, 2011.

Why he matters: Kalish and Josh Reddick -- see below -- both impact how the Red Sox will approach their negotiations with Jason Bay. The negotiations thus far have been quiet, but it's safe to assume that the Red Sox are more reluctant to push the envelope in terms of years than in terms of dollars. The 31-year-old Bay already is a subpar defensive left fielder, and the presence of Kalish and Reddick in the system means the Red Sox might view Bay as the heir to David Ortiz as their designated hitter. If that's something that Bay can't accept, he's probably going to sign elsewhere.

Kalish, in fact, has a chance to become an above-average defensive center fielder -- and he could prompt Jacoby Ellsbury to follow the Carl Crawford career track, moving to left field to give the Red Sox an exceptional defensive outfield.

Casey Kelly, P
Who he is: One of the top pitching prospects in the game, Kelly had a 1.12 ERA in nine starts at Single-A Greenville and a 3.09 ERA in eight starts after a promotion to Single-A Salem. Presuming the Red Sox convince him his future is as a starting pitcher, he'll start next season at Double-A Portland and climb the ladder as quickly as his results will let him.

But he's still just 20 years old, and that means he'll need a little bit of time to let his repertoire take shape. He throws a fastball around 92 miles per hour -- and he has room to grow -- with a hard curveball, a potential plus pitch, and a changeup.

When he'll get to Boston: Midseason call-up, 2011.

Why he matters: Simply put, he's the best prospect in the Red Sox system, and he's going to have to be part of any deal the Red Sox make for Gonzalez or Halladay or Felix Hernandez -- especially if the Red Sox make Clay Buchholz off-limits. If the Red Sox see him as a future star in the mold of Jon Lester, they might not be willing to make the type of impact trade some want them to make.

Josh Reddick, OF
Who he is: Reddick made his major-league debut last season -- he even hit a couple of home runs -- but what's most important was the way he played in the minor leagues. He went into last season with an eye on improving his approach at the plate and working more walks, and that's just what he did. He walked just 34 times in more than 500 plate appearances in 2008, and he walked 36 times in fewer than 400 plate appearances in 2009.

His batting average and slugging percentage both suffered, but for a player with Reddick's ability, it might just be a step back that eventually yields two or three giant steps forward.

When he'll get to Boston: Been there, done that.

Why he matters: He'll start next season at Triple-A Pawtucket no matter what happens with Bay. It's almost unfathomable that the Red Sox would be satisfied with replacing a middle-of-the-order bat with a 23-year-old rookie. (When Dustin Pedroia took over full-time at second base three seasons ago, don't forget, he was replacing Mark Loretta and didn't need to do much more than play solid defense and hit the ball every once in a while.)

But his presence and the way the Red Sox feel about him will impact the Bay negotiations. Not only would he likely relegate Bay to designated-hitter duties if he emerged as a potential star, but he and Kalish also give the Red Sox reason to believe that a stopgap solution of Bobby Abreu or Mike Cameron or Josh Willingham with an eye on a younger player taking over in 2011 might be a better more than paying Bay $15 million over the next four or five seasons.

Ryan Westmoreland, OF
Who he is:
If he can stop running into walls and breaking his collarbone -- word from the ProJo is that he's doing just fine -- the Rhode Island native likely will open next season at Single-A Greenville and continue his march toward the major leagues. He hit .296 and OBP'ed .401 in his pro debut a year ago, walking 38 times in fewer than 300 plate appearances and ranking fourth in the New York-Penn League in OPS (.885).

When he'll get to Boston: Midseason call-up, 2013.

Why he matters: Like Kelly, at this point, he's a key chip in any trade for an impact bat like Gonzalez or arm like Hernandez. He's essentially irrelevant in any discussions about the future makeup of the Red Sox roster because his arrival is so far off -- it took Grady Sizemore, a frequent basis of comparison for Westmoreland, four years to reach the major leagues, and he didn't miss time with injuries the way Westmoreland has.

But his raw skills have to be tantalizing for teams like the Blue Jays or the Padres. With his power potential -- he slugged .484 for the Spinners this season, including seven home runs -- his upside is higher than that of Jacoby Ellsbury. You'd better believe his name is coming up in trade discussions, and his availability might determine what sort of player the Red Sox can acquire in any trade.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Defense in left field far too overlooked

It might have raised some eyebrows when Fox Sports reported that the Red Sox were among the teams interested in the Marlins' Dan Uggla -- to play left field.

The news brings to mind a question that already should have come to mind given how much money the Red Sox are prepared to pay Jason Bay: How important is defense in left field?

The answer: More than it's given credit for.

The more you think about it, in fact, the more outrageous it seems that teams routinely stick their worst defensive outfielder in left field. Righthanded hitters outnumber lefthanded hitters by about a 1.5-to-1 margin in the major leagues, and that means far more fly balls end up being hit to left field instead of right field.

Most teams, however, stick their best defensive corner outfielder in right field because he'll have a chance to throw out a runner going from first to third on a single a couple of dozen times a year. Even the Red Sox do it: J.D. Drew played right field last season and Jason Bay played left field -- and Drew is a significantly better defensive outfielder than Bay.

According to FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement metric, a statistic that measures both hitting and fielding to determine how much better a player is than an average Triple-A replacement, defense among left fielders is tremendously undervalued.

Matt Holliday led all left fielders in WAR thanks in part to the fact that his fielding ability was on the plus side of the ledger rather than the minus. Here's how the top half of the leaderboard looked (with Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games in parentheses):

Holliday, 5.7 (6.0)
Carl Crawford, 5.5 (17.5)
Nyjer Morgan, 4.9 (30.8)
Ryan Braun, 4.8 (minus-13.6)
Raul Ibanez, 4.2 (10.7)
Denard Span, 3.8 (16.7)
Adam Lind, 3.7 (minus-24)
Jason Bay, 3.5 (minus-11.2)

Funny thing: Five of the top six spots are taken by left fielders who make a positive rather than negative impact with the glove. Conventional wisdom would suggest that you'd take Ryan Braun over Nyjer Morgan every day of the week and twice on day-night doubleheaders. But that just shows how undervalued defense among left fielders really is.

Like first basemen, left fielders always have been judged solely on their ability to hit -- which is strange given how many fly balls tend to be hit to left field. A team that can find an speedy left fielder with good instincts -- a Crawford or a Morgan, for example -- has an upper hand on one that has to stick a statue in left field and hope for the best.

Fortunately for Uggla, he doesn't hit like a second baseman. He hits like -- well, he hits like a left fielder. His OPS'es over the last three seasons:
2007: .805
2008: .874
2009: .813

The .813 OPS he recorded last season would have ranked him 25th out of 62 full-time outfielders -- right in between Carl Crawford and Denard Span and ahead of names like Jacoby Ellsbury, Nick Markakis and Shane Victorino.

That, by his standards, was a disappointing season.

The next question that comes to mind: Can Uggla play a left field decent enough to make a trade -- and an expected $7 million salary -- worthwhile?

Nine players have played at least 30 games at second base and in the outfield in a season over the last three seasons -- and all but two were significantly better in the outfield than at second base:

(Sorry for the weird white space here. There are no HTML experts in these parts, and that means formatting experiments kind of go awry.)

NameUZR at 2BUZR at OF
Skip Schumaker, 2009-8.5-46.5
Chris Burke, 2007-2.8-21.4
Ben Zobrist, 200930.831.6
Delwyn Young, 2009-17.1-2.6
Esteban German, 2008-15.66.0
Mark DeRosa, 2008-15.911.5
B.J. Upton, 2007-25.83.6
Joe Inglett, 2008-9.122.1
Eugenio Velez, 2009-28.117.9

Other than Schumaker -- who might be the victim of small sample size, as he played a pretty decent outfield with more playing time in 2008 -- and Burke, just about everyone else was a bad defensive second baseman who turned into a pretty solid defensive outfielder.

Here's the caveat: Most of the above players moved because they were lousy defensive second basemen. You just don't take a guy who can handle second base competently and stick him in left field.

Uggla is not a competent defensive second baseman, either. His bat just provides enough thump to compensate for his defensive shortcomings. Check out his UZR/150 numbers for the past three seasons:
2007: minus-11.3
2008: 2.0
2009: minus-9.6

Among second basemen in the major leagues this season, only Luis Castillo was worse.

Maybe Uggla can do what Mark DeRosa and B.J. Upton have done -- that is, take the athleticism that makes them to look like second basemen and use it to chase down fly balls in the outfield. If he can do that, he might turn himself from an infielder who makes a negative impact defensively into an outfielder who makes a positive impact defensively.

And if he can hit the way most teams expect he can hit, well, he might not be such a bad fit in left field at Fenway Park.