Saturday, January 30, 2010

Older hitters still valuable in short deals

In the post-steroid, post-amphetamine, post-supplement era, older players have lost much of their appeal in the free-agent market. Teams are increasingly wary of being burned by 36- or 37-year-old players whose abilities on defense are eroding and whose speed on the basepaths is declining.

Bobby Abreu could barely get a sniff last winter. Former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon seems to have overplayed his hand this winter.

FanGraphs, among others, has started to wonder if older players are going to become the next market inefficiency.

The idea of a market inefficiency, after all, isn't to find the best players. The "Moneyball" Athletics worshipped at the altar of on-base percentage not because it was the only way to win games but because it was the way to get the most bang for their buck. The Seattle Mariners got better through improved defense because no one else knew who Franklin Gutierrez even was.

The goal of any team should be to maximize contribution per dollar. The more bang for the buck, the better. Even for a deep-pocketed team like the Red Sox, bang for the buck means something -- and it'll mean even more in coming years when the salaries of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all start to climb past $10 million a season.

The issue with older players, of course, is the fear of getting burned. The Detroit Tigers faced this issue with the $18 million option for Magglio Ordonez they tried halfheartedly to keep from vesting. Ordonez OPS'ed .804 last season, a respectable number but certainly not one worth $18 million a season.

According to FanGraphs, Ordonez was worth 1.8 wins above replacement last season. Abreu was worth 2.5 wins above replacement last season. Damon was worth 3.0 wins above replacement last season -- and he hasn't been worth less than 2.2 since the statistic started being compiled eight years ago.

Ordonez is an example of the danger in paying too much to older players. Abreu and Damon are examples of the danger of shying away too much from older players.

Damon still can hit. The 37-year-old outfielder thrived in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium last season but still OPS'ed .795 on the road, including an on-base percentage of .349. His walk rate stayed above 10 percent for the fourth straight season. He saw more than 4.0 pitches per plate appearance for the fourth straight season.

Damon might be 10 years older than Jeremy Hermida, but the odds are pretty good that he would outproduce Hermida in the same amount of playing time. Even better, he'll probably earn about the same salary. One would like to believe that if the contract of David Ortiz had expired, Theo Epstein already would have snapped up Damon to be his designated hitter next season.

The contract of Ortiz does expire after the 2010 season, and there's almost no chance the Red Sox pick up the $12.5 million team option for 2011. That's when Epstein will have a chance to exploit the new market inefficiency.

Epstein by then might have made a trade for San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez or Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. Instead of investing $100 million in one of those two sluggers, though, it might be worth trawling for older players on one- or two-year contracts, players who can provide two-thirds of the production at one-third the cost.

One such player, actually, could be Ortiz himself.

Adam Dunn could be another. Much like Abreu and Damon, Dunn will be on the wrong side of 30 and bring little defensive value when he hits the open market after the 2010 season. Predicting the market is next to impossible, of course, but there's a good chance Dunn and Ortiz both get the Abreu/Damon treatment in the new defense-is-paramount age of baseball.

Dunn has OBP'ed better than .380 in five of his last six seasons. He's slugged better than .500 in five of his last six seasons. His OPS of .928 last season ranked him ahead of Jason Bay, J.D. Drew and Matt Holliday.

He's been worth just 1.2 wins above replacement in each of the last two seasons, but that number factors in his miserable defense. If an American League team -- say, the Red Sox -- needed a designated hitter, Dunn could provide tremendous production at a fraction of the cost of Cabrera or Gonzalez.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Saving Buchholz saved money long-term

(A discussion broken out of the Josh Beckett contract post.)

As it turned out, the Red Sox didn't lose much by leaving Clay Buchholz in the minor leagues until late July. Even as well as he pitched down the stretch, it's almost inconceivable that he alone could have made up the eight-win difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees in the regular-season standings -- and thus have changed the outcome of the season in any meaningful way.

And by leaving Buchholz in the minor leagues until late July, the Red Sox probably saved themselves $3 million during the 2011 season and maybe even more beyond that.

Buchholz, of course, is subject to the same salary structure that limits the earning power of younger players in both leagues. Until a player has the equivalent of three full seasons of service time in the major leagues, his salary can be set by his team. That salary normally is close to the major-league minimum, which will be $400,000 during the 2010 season.

Once a player has three full seasons of service time, he can file for salary arbitration -- and with that enjoy increased leverage depending on what an arbitrator might be expected to award him based on his service time and his achievement to date. Arbitration salaries tend to increase over time even if players' production does not: Jeremy Hermida earned $2.25 million last season and will earn $3.345 million next season despite lackluster production, the main reason the Florida Marlins traded him to the Red Sox for next to nothing.

There's one exception to the rule: Super Twos are players who have close to -- but not quite -- three years of service time in the major leagues. To qualify, a player must have two seasons plus 86 days of service time and rank among the top 17 percent of players with between two and three seasons of service time.

One season is defined as 172 days of service time. The cutoff, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, tends to fall somewhere around two years and 130 days, but it varies year to year.

Super Twos are eligible for arbitration as though they'd completed their third full season -- and, as you can imagine, can cost their respective teams some money. Tim Lincecum might be the best example: The Giants called him up in early May in 2007 and, of course, never sent him back. The righty finished last season with two seasons plus 148 days of service time and thus is eligible for arbitration as a Super Two.

Had the Giants waited another three weeks to call Lincecum up to the major leagues, they'd be paying him less than $1 million in 2011. Instead, though, the two-time Cy Young Award winner filed with an arbitrator for $13 million.

(This is why it's become so trendy for teams to call up their top prospects no earlier than Memorial Day -- and sometimes later. The Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles did it last season with Tommy Hanson and Matt Wieters, respectively. The Washington Nationals likely will do the same this season with Stephen Strasburg.)

Here's where Buchholz becomes relevant: The 25-year-old righty finished last season with one year and 59 days of major-league service time. Even if he spends the entire 2010 season in the major leagues, it's impossible for him to finish with more than two years and 59 days of major-league service time -- well below the Super Two plateau.

Had he started last season in the major leagues, he would have lined himself up for Super Two status in the 2011 season. Another 70 days of major-league service time -- about 2 1/2 months -- would have been enough to get him within striking range of arbitration eligibility.

Instead, though, Buchholz will be paid a salary close to the major-league minimum both in 2010 and 2011 before his service-time clock starts to kick in.

Lincecum, of course, is a special case. Barring a quantum leap forward in performance, Buchholz isn't going to see that type of money. But here's a look at several more similar pitchers eligible for arbitration for the first time and what they'll earn next season -- or, at least, what they and their team will take to the arbitration table should they fail to reach a settlement:

Brian Bannister: $2.3 million
Chad Billingsley: $3.85 million
John Danks: $3.45 million
Matt Garza: $3.35 million*
Jeremy Guthrie: $2.3-3.625 million
Joe Saunders: $3.6-3.85 million
Jered Weaver: $4.265 million
*Super Two

Beckett, for the sake of comparison, agreed to a deal worth $2.4 million in his first arbitration-eligible season and $4.325 million in his second arbitration-eligible season. Before he could get to arbitration again, he signed an extension that paid him $6 million in what would have been his third arbitration-eligible season.

Had the Red Sox missed the playoffs by a game or two, games in which Buchholz could have made a difference in April and May, that $3 million or so wouldn't look like much.

Just ask the Yankees, though, what a difference $3 million can make.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No spot reserved for Wakefield

"It seems every year, and I don't know why, my name gets brought up like this when I don't feel I need to prove myself every day. I don't know where the rumors are coming from, but I try not to pay attention. I know my role and I know what my approach is going to be when I get to spring training: be a starter and help us win the World Series. Hopefully they respect me enough to give me the ball when we get to spring training as a member of this rotation. I think I've earned the right to be a full-time starter and go from there."
-- Tim Wakefield

With all due respect to Wakefield, a man who can never get enough credit for his contribution to two World Series titles, here's a look at his second-half numbers over the past six seasons:

2004: 5.77 ERA (14 starts)
2005: 4.26 ERA (15 starts)
2006: 7.40 ERA (5 starts)
2007: 5.25 ERA (14 starts)
2008: 5.22 ERA (11 starts)
2009: 6.00 ERA (4 starts)

Not since he turned 40 years old -- and it's important to remember that he turned 40 years old 3 1/2 years ago -- has Wakefield been anything close to effective down the stretch for the Red Sox. He hasn't held up. He hasn't stayed healthy. He hasn't kept runs off the scoreboard.

He hasn't, to put it bluntly, earned the right to be a full-time starter and go from there.

Wakefield generally has pitched well in the first half in the Terry Francona era. His first half last season earned him his first career All-Star nod even though his ERA (4.31) was more than half a run higher than it had been the year before (3.60).

The gems he threw -- he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Oakland and threw seven one-hit innings in Cleveland two weeks later -- looked even better when contrasted with the ugly outings endured by Daisuke Matsuzaka and the assorted wreckage at the bottom of the starting rotation.

Wakefield, who underwent back surgery in the offseason, this week pronounced himself healthy and ready to go well ahead of spring training.

"We'll see when we get there, but I plan on being one of the five starters," Wakefield told reporters at an awards ceremony in New York. "I think I've earned that."

Of the five other starting pitchers in the conversation, three are Fort Knox locks to open the season as part of the rotation: Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester. The order in which the three will pitch is still open for discussion. Even Wakefield, though, wouldn't argue that any of those three are occupying the spot he's earned.

Beyond that, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka remain, and the Red Sox have a compelling reason to make sure each is part of the starting rotation:
1. Buchholz looked like one of the best starters in the American League last season during a 10-start stretch in which he compiled a 2.37 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .572 OPS.
2. Matsuzaka won't turn 30 years old until September, and his body thus is far more likely than that of Wakefield to bounce back from the injuries that torpedoed his season a year ago. (That is, of course, as long as he discloses all of his injuries.) On top of that, he has three years and $28 million remaining on the contract he signed with the Red Sox before the 2007 season.

The most compelling reason for Wakefield?
1. He's earned it.

Well, OK, sure, Wakefield has put up some impressive first-half numbers over the last few seasons:

2004: 4.17 ERA (18 games, including 16 starts)
2005: 4.05 ERA (18 starts)
2006: 4.05 ERA (18 starts)
2007: 4.39 ERA (17 starts)
2008: 3.60 ERA (19 starts)
2009: 4.31 ERA (17 starts)

The Red Sox just have no reason to believe Wakefield can maintain that level of production -- or any level of production, really -- through August and September. If he starts the season with a spot in the rotation, he's inevitably going to have to be replaced.

Even worse, to shoehorn Wakefield into the rotation to start the season, the Red Sox probably would have to send Clay Buchholz back to Triple-A Pawtucket to tear the International League apart for a second straight spring. Buchholz might still bring question marks with him, but he gave every indication last August and September that he's ready to become an elite pitcher in the American League. Like Lester before him, he's in position to take a gigantic step foward in his development -- and the presence of Wakefield only would stunt that development.

Wakefield has earned the undying respect of every Red Sox fan. He hasn't earned, however, a spot in the rotation in perpetuity. Finding a role for him will take some creativity -- but that role shouldn't involve taking the ball every five days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Signing Beckett long-term a huge investment

Consensus generally has been optimistic about the chances that Josh Beckett and the Red Sox come to some sort of agreement on a contract extension before he hits the open market next winter.

It's tough, though, to see how it would work.

The hard-throwing righty faded down the stretch but looked like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher for much of the summer, finishing the season with 17 wins and a 3.86 ERA in a career-best 212 1/3 innings. It was the third time in his four seasons with the Red Sox that he's pitched 200 or more innings, and it also was the third time in his four seasons he's recorded an ERA+ of 115 or better.

Beckett has a chance to hit the free-agent market after the 2010 season as one of the few No. 1 starters available, and No. 1 starters get their money no matter what the economic situation.

He already signed one team-friendly contract with the Red Sox. He already was unlikely to sign another team-friendly contract -- and then Theo Epstein lavished more than $80 million on John Lackey in December.

If the Red Sox are going to re-sign Beckett, they're going to have to offer him what they offered Lackey -- if not a little bit more. The only way Beckett could fit into their salary structure would be if he came at the expense of ever acquiring an impact bat for the middle of the lineup.

Consider the money the Red Sox will pay their starters in 2010:
* Beckett, $12 million
* Clay Buchholz, major-league minimum ($0.5 million)
* John Lackey, $18 million
* Jon Lester, $3.75 million
* Daisuke Matsuzaka, $8 million
Total: $42.25 million

If the Red Sox re-up Beckett for something close to Lackey money -- let's say four years, $60 million, just to be conservative -- here's what they'd have in 2011:
* Beckett, $15 million
* Buchholz, major-league minimum ($0.5 million)
* Lackey, $15.25 million
* Lester, $5.75 million
* Matsuzaka, $10 million
Total: $46.5 million

And in 2012?
* Beckett, $15 million
* Buchholz, $3 million* (arbitration estimate)
* Lackey, $15.25 million
* Lester, $7.63 million
* Matsuzaka, $10 million
Total: $50.88 million

By 2014, the Red Sox could be paying four pitchers (Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey and Lester) more than $52 million between them, a hefty sum for a team that hasn't yet opened a season with a payroll of higher than $150 million. Two of those pitchers -- the most expensive two, of course -- would be 34 and 35 years old.

Oh, and the Red Sox already have second baseman Dustin Pedroia under contract for $10 million in 2014, too.

Imagine trying to fit a bat like Miguel Cabrera (due $22 million in both 2014 and 2015) or Adrian Gonzalez (who will have no reason to settle for anything less than that) into the budget while still filling out the rest of the roster.

Best of luck with that.

There's a reason the Red Sox have fought so fiercely to hang onto Casey Kelly. There's a reason the Red Sox have invested so heavily in Junichi Tazawa. Young pitchers give a team the financial flexibility veteran pitchers don't. Buchholz and Lester still are young pitchers, but they won't be young pitchers by the time Beckett gets into the middle of a four- or five-year contract extension. Should Buchholz progress the way he looked last season like he's going to progress, the above arbitration estimate might be on the conservative side.

Investing $15 million in one pitcher in his mid-30s is risky. Investing $30 million in two pitchers in their mid-30s is borderline insane -- even for the deep-pocketed Red Sox.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dustin Richardson and Brian Shouse

Dustin Richardson just turned 26 years old and is a strikeout machine. Brian Shouse is 41 years old and earns his living with top-notch control and by inducing ground ball after ground ball. One of the two likely will break camp as the second lefty in the Red Sox bullpen.

With the starting rotation all but set in stone and the starting lineup likewise ready to go, Richardson and Shouse are competing for one of the few jobs actually up for grabs in spring training. The role either Richardson or Shouse would fill would be the Javier Lopez role -- generally a mop-up role with a chance to face some lefties in big spots on days Hideki Okajima might not be available.

The argument for Richardson
The 6-foot-6 Richardson doesn't throw 98 miles an hour like Daniel Bard does, but his strikeout rate does resemble that of the flame-throwing righty. Like Bard, Richardson was a starting pitcher until a rough season -- in his case, a 6.33 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Portland -- gave the Red Sox reason to try him out of the bullpen.

He promptly put up a 2.41 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.33 in 18 2/3 innings in the Hawaiian Winter League, and he struck out 97 batters in 74 innings split between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season. He then made 11 appearances in the Arizona Fall League and struck out 18 in 11 2/3 innings pitched.

His strikeout rate alone makes him a candidate to grow into an above-average reliever, and a few mop-up appearances in the back of the Red Sox bullpen would give him a chance to ease into a regular role. It's not as though he's done all he can do at Triple-A -- he only made seven appearances with the PawSox after his promotion from Portland -- but he's demonstrated in the minor leagues that he's capable of missing bats. The more experience he can get in the major leagues, the more quickly he's going to develop into the lefthanded strikeout reliever he potentially c ould be.

The Red Sox will choose Richardson if they want a mop-up reliever who can pitch multiple innings -- he has that background as a starting pitcher, after all -- and if they believe his learning curve would be accelerated by starting the season in the major leagues.

The argument for Shouse
With Boof Bonser in the fold, the Red Sox aren't in desperate need of a reliever who can go multiple innings. Shouse would take over for Billy Wagner as the second option against tough lefthanded hitters -- except, unlike Wagner, he's usually be a one-and-done pitcher who would be called upon to get just one out.

Consider his recent numbers against lefties:
2007: .214/.264/.262 (.526 OPS), 21 K, 6 BB
2008: .180/.197/.290 (.486 OPS), 28 K, 2 BB
2009: .224/.256/.373 (.620 OPS), 14 K, 1 BB

In 267 plate appearances against Shouse over the last three seasons, lefties have struck out 63 times and walked just nine times, a ratio of 7-to-1. Shouse has induced more double plays against lefties (seven) in that time span than he has allowed home runs (five).

If the job involves pitching to righties, Shouse probably isn't the guy: Righties have OBP'ed better than .350 against Shouse in every full season of his career, and he has has walked more righties than he's fanned in each of the last two seasons.

If the job involves retiring a tough lefty, though, it's hard to do much better than Shouse has done -- even at the age of 41.

The Red Sox will choose Shouse if Terry Francona believes he needs a Mike Myers-esque lefty specialist to use against lefties like Curtis Granderson, Adam Lind, Nick Markakis and Carlos Pena.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lars Anderson crashes back to earth

In looking at the career statistics for Lars Anderson in the minor leagues, one column stands out more than any other: His batting average on balls in play.

Lars Anderson BABIP
2007: .370
2008: .384
2009: .296

Consensus and statistics have the average hitters' BABIP somewhere in the .300 range. It's easy to jump to conclusions and suggest that Anderson just saw his luck run out last season, a season in which his OPS tumbled from .935 to .669 and his ranking on the Baseball America prospect chart tumbled from No. 1 to No. 4.

But Anderson has always tended to hit the ball hard, a trait that generally correlates with a high batting average on balls in play. A BABIP that high over a two-year period -- he came to the plate more than 1,000 times in that span -- can't be dismissed as a fluke.

What it can be a sign of, though, is a hitter who's not hitting the ball as hard as he once did. From Baseball America's writeup in late December: When Anderson slumped, he tinkered with his swing, which became longer and more mechanical. After previously using the opposite field well, he became more pull-conscious, perhaps pressing to hit homers. Nothing worked, and he hit just .154 with one homer after the all-star break.

The numbers -- hat tip to -- back that up, too. Consider one key indicator:

Infield fly ball ratio (as compared to all fly balls)
2007: 8.4 percent
2008: 7.6 percent
2009: 21.2 percent

(For the sake of comparison, fellow top prospects Ryan Kalish and Anthony Rizzo had infield-fly rates of 8.1 and 7.8 percent last season, respectively. Both recorded BABIPs of better than .335.)

It's just a preposterous jump. By ratio, Anderson hit almost three times as many infield pop-ups as he had the previous season -- and nothing brings down a BABIP like infield pop-ups.

One thing that can cause pop-ups? A long swing -- something that ought to be salvageable with a winter of rest and some good coaching on his side.

Anderson, as often is noted, is still young. If he'd gone to college instead of signing out of high school, he'd have been draft-eligible for the first time last June and might still be entering his first full season of professional baseball. He won't turn 23 until after the upcoming season ends.

If the Red Sox can help him fix the flaw in his swing that prevented him from squaring up the ball, there's no reason they can't get him right back on track.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kelly taking attention in stride

The brilliance of the limited media availability during the Red Sox rookie development program is the way it gives some of the team's top prospects a chance to practice an absolutely essential skill for a major-league player: Answering the same questions over and over and over again.

Writers come in waves in search of one-on-ones, but the questions usually all are the same -- especially during the winter when not much changes day to day. Players, then, wind up answering similar questions three times or three dozen times, and part of the unwritten contract with fans and media is that they'll be patient enough to do so.

"We talk about the partnership that needs to be established, that it's part of their role as major-league baseball players to participate in the media," Red Sox director of player development told reporters assembled for the rookie program last Wednesday. "You guys have a job to do, and you guys are here, within your job, to write about them. ... We really impress upon them that it's part of their job and responsibility to be active participants both in the community and with the media."

Consider these two discourses offered by catching prospect Luis Exposito when asked about his competition with fellow catchers Tim Federowicz and Mark Wagner, discourses offered to different writers in different groups no more than 10 minutes apart from one another:

1. "Those two guys are tremendous catchers. They have tremendous tools. We're all after the ultimate goal, to make it to the big leagues. Professionalism, the professionalism of myself, that's all I can worry about."
2. "Those guys, they're tremendous catchers, both of them. They're great players. I try to work hard. They can make me better, and, hopefully, I can make them better. That's all we have, a common goal to try to make it to the major leagues. I try to see it as I'm going to make them better, and they can make me better."

It wasn't going to be word-for-word exact, of course, but it's a sign that Exposito already has started to master the art of handling waves of questions. The second reporter asked almost the exact same question as the first, and yet Exposito answered with the type of thoughtfulness he'd have if he'd never heard the question before in his life.

Exposito, though, doesn't have the high profile that Kelly earned for himself with a spectacular debut as a pitcher in the minor leagues -- along with the added subplot of having to choose between pitching and playing shortstop.

No one really knows Casey Kelly yet. No one has yet written the definitive Kelly story the way one writer wrote the definitive Lars Anderson story a year ago at this time, back when Anderson was the next-big-thing prospect and Kelly was simply a first-round pick who couldn't decide what position he wanted to play.

Anderson, of course, had a rough second season in the minor leagues, and it's tempting to draw a connection between all the hype swirling around him last winter and the way he struggled so badly during the season.

Kelly has had to deal with the same type of hype -- if not more, given the decision he had to make. Kelly talked in September about having to make a decision. Kelly talked in early December about having made his decision. Kelly talked to WEEI earlier this month about what went into his decision. Kelly then talked at the rookie camp last week about, well, what else?

Nothing has changed since December. Kelly still hasn't started his first full season as a pitcher. Still though, the questions keep coming:

On spring training: "I'm competing for a job in Portland. I'm trying to go through spring training and play at the highest level I can, and we'll see what happens. ... You always want to come in and show that you're in good condition, and you're always trying to earn a job. Coming in at top condition and showing off what you can do is the biggest thing."

On his offseason preparation: "It's a lot easier than than last year, trying to train for two positions. This year, it's been great. Knowing what position I'm going to be playing throughout the season has helped my training. I've been training really hard. We started our throwing program a couple of weeks ago, so I'm ready to get the season going."

On potentially jumping to Double-A: "I'm very excited. Obviously, you want to get up to the big leagues as fast as possible, so starting out at Double-A, I hope I start out at Double-A and see what happens. I've worked out hard and have been training hard, so everything else will take care of itself."

On missing playing shortstop: "I'll miss it just like I miss football. Of course, I'm not playing football -- and I'm not playing shortstop. My main focus is on pitching, and that's what I'm going to focus on right now. I'm sure I'll miss it just like I miss watching football on TV, but, at the same time, I'm focused 100 percent with pitching right now."

On hearing his name in trade rumors: "I really didn't know much about any of the trade talks at all. I only found out because my friend was online looking at stuff and heard my name. That's stuff that's out of your hands, out of your control. I'm just trying to focus on what I can control and getting ready for the season."

On the presence of Jose Iglesias as a factor in his decision: "No. He'd just signed when we went to Arizona (for the Arizona Fall League) and then when we came back. I just sat down with the Red Sox, and we had a conversation about what position would be the best for my career and the longest career I was going to have. It came out that pitching was going to be the deciding factor."

On absorbing the decision: "It was definitely a tough decision to make, one of the biggest decisions of my life that I had to make at 20 years old. The year before that, I had to decide whether I wanted to play college football or play professional baseball, so it seems like each year there's been a pretty big question I had to answer."

On which decision was more difficult: "This one definitely was tougher. I knew I loved baseball, and I knew that was what I was going to do. For this one, I had long discussions with my family, and they were going to back me 100 percent with anything that I did. I just came to the sense that I want to be in the big leagues and have a great career in the big leagues, so pitching was that way."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pitching prospect Weiland still finding routine

Kyle Weiland -- pronounced WHY-land -- didn't have the experience in college of pitching every five days. Weiland pitched out of the bullpen at Notre Dame, compiling a 2.37 ERA in 49 1/3 innings pitched as a freshman and earning 25 saves in his career, a Fighting Irish record.

No matter. That routine would have had little bearing on the routine the 23-year-old righty is trying to learn now that he's a starting pitcher climbing the ladder with the Red Sox.

"From a preparation standpoint, it's so much different than the amateur game," said Mike Hazen, Red Sox director of player development. "They need to learn that at the professional level as well."

Weiland had trouble with his routine at the start of this season, and it cost him: He had a 12.00 ERA at the end of April and 6.91 ERA at the end of May. It wasn't until he caught fire in June -- he allowed just one earned run in five starts, a span of 27 2/3 innings -- that he started to feel a little more comfortable.

Part of the issue with his routine between starts, a routine he'd never really developed during his transition from relieving to starting.

"We do have a strict program for starters," he said. "With five days, you do have something to do every day. But to have a time schedule -- 'This is when I need to get to the field. This is when I'll do this.' -- instead of getting it in anytime during the day, to have a strict routine, will help me stay more consistent."

By the end of the season, Weiland had started to figure it all out. Not once in his final 10 starts did he allow more than three earned runs, and he struck out 10 in six scoreless innings in one gem of a start in late August.

His 3.46 ERA actually ranked him seventh out of 21 qualifiers in the Carolina League by the end of the season.

"He got off to a pretty rough start last year in Salem and really had to struggle to bail himself out of that valley he put himself in -- and he did," Hazen said. "At the end of the year, if you look at his numbers, they compare with just about anybody in the Carolina League."

Weiland made the transition from relieving to starting during his short-season stint at Single-A Lowell after the Red Sox selected him in the third round in 2008. He made five relief appearances before jumping into the Spinners' rotation for 10 starts down the stretch, compiling a 1.23 ERA in the process and earning Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors in the process.

"He's got a very heavy sinker that he gets a ton of ground balls with," Haven said. "But he can also strike guys out with his curveball. That consistency of strike-throwing, especially with his secondary pitches, is going to be needed at the upper levels."

With Weiland having pitched out of the bullpen in college, it stands to reason that he'll eventually end up back in the bullpen with such pitchers as Casey Kelly, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa ahead of him on prospect charts -- not to mention Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester already in the major leagues.

Hazen wasn't about to make that type of decision at the rookie development camp this week -- but he wasn't about to discount the possibility, either.

"That's one of the things we talk about here: 'Your role at the major-league level may not be what it is at the minor-league level. The first time you come up, if we have fix to six starting pitchers at the major-league level, you're probably not breaking into that rotation right away. You're probably going to have to start in the bullpen,'" Hazen said. "We try to get them prepared for that mentally now: 'Until you establish yourself as a major-league player and as a major-league starter, you may have to go in (out of the bullpen).'

"Taz had to do it, Bowden's had to do it, (Daniel) Bard was obviously a reliever, Buch has had to relieve at the major-league level, (Justin) Masterson had to relieve at the major-league level. They need to be prepared for that."

Said Weiland, "The fast track is as a reliever, but that option always stays open. Even if you start for most of your minor-league career, you could get called up as a reliever -- as we've seen many times."

Red Sox probably overpaid for Lackey

With the free-agent market wrapping up for the winter -- pitcher Joel Pineiro has agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels -- it's worth revisiting the contract the Red Sox bestowed upon John Lackey in December.

The Red Sox will pay Lackey $82.5 million over the next five seasons, including a team-high $18 million in 2010. They'll pay Lackey more per season than the Angels will pay Piniero for the entire two years of his contract. They probably overpaid.

General manager Theo Epstein cited A.J. Burnett's contract with the New York Yankees in justifying the length of the commitment he made to the former ace of the Los Angeles Angels. He wasn't pressed, however, on exactly why he felt obligated to bid $16.5 million per year even for a pitcher the caliber of Lackey.

Especially in this economic climate -- Johnny Damon, for example, still is waiting for someone to offer him more than $2 or $3 million a year -- it appears Epstein overvalued the pitcher and probably spent money he didn't have to spend.

How can we tell? Consider the other pitchers who have signed multiyear deals this winter:

* Jason Marquis signed a two-year, $15 million contract with Washington, an average annual value of $7.5 million per season. Marquis was worth 3.8 wins above replacement (WAR) last season and 1.8 the season before that, an average of 2.8. The Nationals, looking at it that way, spent $2.68 million per win.
* Piniero has signed a contract worth $8 million per season. Piniero was worth 4.8 wins above replacement (WAR) last season and 0.9 the season before that, an average of 2.85. The Mets, looking at it that way, would spend $2.81 million per win.
* Randy Wolf signed a three-year, $29.75 million contract with Milwaukee, an average annual value of close to $10 million per season. Wolf was worth 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR) last season and 2.5 the season before that, an average of 2.75. The Brewers, looking at it that way, spent $3.64 million per win.

(If you need a refresher on WAR -- the calculated worth of a player, measured in wins added in the standings as compared to an off-the-street replacement -- click here or here.)

Lackey will earn an average of $16.5 million over the five years of his contract. He was worth 3.9 wins above replacement (WAR) last season and 2.0 the season before that.

The Red Sox therefore spent $5.59 million per win -- or slightly less than the Nationals and Brewers spent for Marquis and Wolf combined. If you look only at his 3.9 WAR season of a year ago, the Red Sox still spent $4.23 million per win, well above what the Nationals and Brewers spent.

(Side note: The idea for every team is to pay for future performance, not past performance. Free agency, however, tends to reward past performance at least as much as future performance, and that's why two previous years' worth of WAR numbers are at least as valuable to this exercise as what teams did get or will get out of their free agents. Particularly for veterans like Lackey, the immediate past can be as predictive as anything else available.)

If Lackey is going to be worth $16.5 million a season, he's probably going to need to post a WAR closer to 5.0 or 6.0 -- an accomplishment of which he's more than capable, with his outstanding 2007 season as the most recent evidence -- than 3.9. The market this winter bears that out. The market last winter bears that out, too.

Consider the six pitchers who signed free-agent contracts a winter ago, another winter in wich the market tended to be depressed:

* Jamie Moyer, Philadelphia: $3.02 million per win
* CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: $3.15 million per win
(Don't be shocked: Sabathia had been a seven-win improvement over the average pitcher, and that made his $23 million salary just about right. Even in his first season in New York, Sabathia was a six-win improvement over a replacement pitcher, meaning the Yankees still paid less than $4 million per win.)
* Derek Lowe, Atlanta: $3.66 million per win
* A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees: $4.07 million per win
* Ryan Dempster, Chicago: $4.81 million per win
* Oliver Perez, New York Mets: $6.86 million per win

Only one of those contracts makes Lackey look like a bargain -- and that contract looked like a bad idea even before it was signed.

Even J.D. Drew's much-discussed $70 million contract looks far more reasonable than that of Lackey when viewed through the prism of his production. Drew posted a WAR of 4.3 in his final season in Los Angeles and a WAR of 2.9 the season before that, an average of 3.6. His $14 million average annual salary results in a dollars-per-win of $3.89 million -- still well below what the Red Sox spent for Lackey., based on an extensive study, has posited that each win-above-replacement was worth $4.5 million on last year's free-agent market -- but those numbers seem a little bit high when you consider that FanGraphs had Drew being worth $21.1 million last season and Jon Lester being worth $28.1 million.

It's probably more reasonable to assume, based on the precedent set last offseason, that teams value wins above replacement at somewhere between $3.5 and $4 million apiece.

Lackey is capable of posting a WAR of 5.0, the type of WAR that would make his $16.5 million annual salary worthwhile. He is, however, 31 years old, and he hasn't posted a WAR of even 4.0 in either of the last two seasons.

Epstein, for his part, can afford to overspend for players. His budget dwarfs that of most of the teams in the major leagues. But when a luxury-tax hit of $2 million becomes so much of an issue that the Red Sox tradedaway a 26-year-old first baseman with an elite defensive glove, it shows that the resources aren't endless.

Unless Lackey pitches like a Cy Young Award candidate throughout the length of his contract, Epstein and the Red Sox probably overpaid.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lefty Doubront must get more consistent

Back for his second go-round with the Red Sox's offseason rookie program, Felix Doubront is coming off an impressive year in which he compiled a 3.35 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Portland. The lefty then made four appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, compiling a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings pitched.

He's put himself in position to have a shot at the starting rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket next season and even a shot at a late-season call-up -- as long as he can get to be more consistent.

Doubront saw his walk rate jump from 5.2 percent to 9.7 percent last season, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio tumbled from 4.93 to 1.94. If he's going to succeed at Triple-A and at the major-league level, that number is going to have to start going the other way.

Here's the good news: Doubront didn't turn 22 years old until after the season ended, meaning he's younger even than Japanese phenom Junichi Tazawa. He still has time to develop.

"As a young player in Double-A, he more than held his own last year," Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said on Wednesday. "He's got to show more consistency, especially with the strike-throwing. He gets himself in a lot of trouble that he probably shouldn't. That will come with time and repeating the delivery and throwing more strikes, especially early in the count, because he has stuff to get guys out even more consistently than he showed."

Doubront was the only pitcher on the 40-man roster who did not earn a call-up to Boston last September thanks in large part to his heavy workload. He threw fewer innings last season (121) than he had the season before (129 1/3), but he actually faced more hitters in the process, a sign of a pitcher who has to labor through tough spots.

He also saw the length of an average start drop from close to five innings down to less than 4 2/3.

"We expect him to probably haul more innings, which means being a little bit more efficient with his pitch counts," Hazen said. "We're not going to let him go out there and throw 150 pitches in a minor-league game. If he wants to get through six and seven innings, he's got to be able to show us he can do it in 90 to 100 to 105 pitches."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Minor-league catchers jostle for position

The Red Sox have three catchers -- Luis Exposito, Tim Federowicz and Mark Wagner -- steadily climbing the minor-league ladder with a real shot at making an impact in the major leagues within a couple of years. Catching has always been a defensive-minded position, a position that has as much to do with working with pitchers as producing at the plate.

Red Sox fans are well aware of Jason Varitek's fanatic belief that his defense and his work with pitchers takes priority of his work on his swing. Even when Varitek was hitting the ball -- and it's easy to forget now that he OPS'ed better than .850 in back-to-back-to-back seasons earlier this decade -- his biggest contribution to the Red Sox was widely believed to be his ability to play defense and to work with pitchers.

It might be surprising, then, to hear what it'll take for one of the three to separate himself from the pack in the next couple of years, at least according to director of player development Mike Hazen on Wednesday: "The ability to perform offensively."

It might say something about the confidence the Red Sox have in the defensive ability of each of their three young catchers that they're going to insist on offensive production out of whoever ends up earning regular playing time at Fenway Park.

"Every catcher you look at at the major-league level usually shows some sort of degree of an ability defensively -- throwing, running a game, that type of stuff," Hazen said while meeting with reporters at the rookie program. "You go and look at any major-league catcher that, even in the big leagues, 'Oh, he only hit .220,' but they all hit in the minor leagues. Those guys, if they're going to be everyday catchers, they have to produce offensively."

If that's the case, Exposito would seem to have the inside track.

The 23-year-old, a 31st-round draft pick back in 2005, OPS'ed .778 in a season split between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 97 plate appearances with the Sea Dogs, Exposito hit .337 with an OPS of .860. His power numbers went down -- he hit 21 home runs in 2008 but only nine in 2009 despite similar playing time -- but that didn't discourage Red Sox evaluators.

"He's got tremendous raw power," Hazen said. "He might have the best righthanded raw power in our system. From that standpoint, it's a very intriguing package he brings to the table.

About the only downside for Exposito was an on-base percentage that didn't separate itself much from his batting average. In his 97 plate appearances in Portland, the catcher walked just four times.

"Theo (Epstein) said that plate discipline is one of the factors that can separate you," the catcher said, "so I'm definitely going to work on that and try to live up to expectations that the organization has for me."

Said Hazen, "He's got to continue to work on refining his plate discipline, approach, managing his at-bats. That's still the biggest thing we're going to impress upon him."

Federowicz and Wagner didn't put up the type of offensive numbers Exposito did. Federowicz -- pronounced Fed-ur-OH-vich -- OPS'ed .825 in his two stops last season but saw his numbers dip quite a bit when he jumped from Single-A Greenville to Single-A Salem. Wagner hit just .214 with an OPS of .619 in more than 150 at-bats after his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.

At this stage, though, it's all about getting at-bats.

Trying to juggle three catchers in a minor-league system isn't the easiest thing in the world. The Red Sox don't want to wear down their catchers them by asking them to get behind the plate for 120 or 130 games, but they also don't want to split time so evenly that development gets stunted.

That's why Exposito played for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League and why Wagner spent part of his winter playing for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Republic.

"We don't catch our catchers every day in the minor leagues," Hazen said. "The wear and tear is extremely difficult. They usually end up with about 350 plate appearances instead of the 500 a typical everyday player would get."

The three catchers likely will start the season at different levels in the minor-league system: Wagner at Triple-A, Exposito at Double-A, Federowicz at Single-A. As the weeks go by and promotions become necessary, however, the Red Sox will have to figure out how best to divide up the playing time. Exposito and Federowicz already overlapped in Salem, and they likely will do so again this season in Portland.

"It gets very challenging," Hazen said. "Everyone always says that it's a great problem to have, but it's a tough problem to manage. It's a challenge. We need to make sure those guys are able to catch four or five days a week and get those (at-bats) in. We always pick it up with the (designated hitter) at-bats for those guys, but we need to get them time behind the plate."

That's the only way, after all, the Red Sox will determine whether any of those three will be able to succeed Varitek and Victor Martinez as a starting catcher in Boston.

"Those two guys are tremendous catchers that have tremendous tools," Exposito said. "We're all after the ultimate goal to make it to the big leagues. Professionalism, the professionalism of myself, that's all I can worry about."

Running the bases with the Red Sox

The play looked fairly innocuous at the time.

Mike Lowell -- the same Mike Lowell who ran last season as if he was dragging a parachute behind him -- surprised everyone by breaking for third in the second inning of a mid-May game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He'd taken a healthy lead off second base and didn't draw a glance from the pitcher, so he decided on his own to take a shot at third.

Lowell surprised everyone, that is, except J.D. Drew, the runner on first base who broke for second base just as Lowell broke for third. When Jeff Bailey singled to shallow left field, Lowell scored -- and Drew coasted into third base. When George Kottaras followed with a fly ball to left field, Drew scored the second run of the inning.

Had Drew not been paying attention to Lowell, he only would have made it to second base on Bailey's single. He then might or might not have made it to third base on Kottaras' fly ball -- and he certainly would have been stranded when Jacoby Ellsbury lined to first base to end the inning.

You guessed it: The Red Sox ended up winning that game, 2-1.

"We scored a run and J.D. was able to get to third on a ball that probably neither of us (otherwise) advances two bases on," Lowell said after the game. "Georgie got a sac fly, and it ended up being something that worked out for us."

Running the bases doesn't have as much impact as hitting or pitching or even playing defense. Running the bases, though, can turn the tide of a handful of games over the course of a season and even can be the difference between a win and a loss.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the Red Sox have fared -- and might fare next season -- in terms of their baserunning.

(Both and compile baserunning statistics. The below statistics are from the latter.)

Going from first to third on a single
American League average: 27.0 percent
2008 lineup: 22.2 percent
2009 lineup: 24.7 percent
2010 lineup*: 24.7 percent

The best: Kevin Youkilis (12 for 32, 37.5 percent)
The worst: David Ortiz (2 for 27, 7.4 percent)

New acquisitions Adrian Beltre (50 percent) and Mike Cameron (41.9 percent) both went from corner to corner last season at an above-average clip. Marco Scutaro, on the other hand, had a brutal year in that area: He got to third base just four times in 38 opportunities, or 10.5 percent.

Scoring from second on a single
American League average: 58.1 percent
2008 lineup: 58.0 percent
2009 lineup: 55.1 percent
2010 lineup*: 54.0 percent

The best: Jason Bay (11 for 12, 91.7 percent)
The worst: Ortiz (2 for 16, 12.5 percent)

Seeing as how picking on Jacoby Ellsbury has become the unofficial theme of the Red Sox offseason, it's interesting to note that the speedster scored from second just 46.2 percent of the time a season ago, third-worst among Red Sox regulars. Ortiz and Jason Varitek were the only other regulars to fail to score from second base on at least 50 percent of their opportunities last season.

Much like his fielding numbers, Ellsbury's baserunning numbers -- his stolen bases aside, of course -- seem to indicate he's not taking full advantage of his speed.

Scoring from first on a double
American League average: 37.9 percent
2008 lineup: 27.5 percent
2009 lineup: 27.2 percent
2010 lineup*: 35.3 percent

The best: Nick Green (5 for 7, 71.4 percent)
The worst: Ortiz/Varitek (0 for 7/0 for 3, 0 percent)

It shouldn't be that surprising that Ortiz is at the bottom of most of these lists. He is, after all, Big Papi. But as the Red Sox try to figure out how often to play him next season, his inability to do anything on the basepaths -- the way he clogs the bases, if you will -- might be a tiny factor in their decision.

Ellsbury? He scored from first on a double just twice on nine opportunities last season, again the third-lowest rate among Red Sox regulars. This time, though, some context is in order: If Ellsbury singles to lead off the game and Dustin Pedroia lofts a high fly ball off the Green Monster -- Pedroia hit 10 first-inning doubles last season -- Ellsbury is going to have to hold at second base until he knows the fly ball won't be caught.

There's little excuse for Ellsbury not being able to score from second on a single more often than he does, but failing to score from first on a double seems to be a function of the ballpark in which he plays.

* based on 2009 numbers

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Patriots-Jets: Who would you take?

It already was a hot topic in this area last week and only will be a hotter topic this week now that the New York Jets have advanced to play the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game on Sunday: Are the Jets better positioned on defense going forward -- defense, of course, being the bread and butter of Bill Belichick -- than the Patriots?

A position-by-position breakdown seems to indicate that, yes, the Jets had a significantly more talented defense this season and will have a significantly more talented defense going forward, especially as the Patriots grapple with the uncertain situation surrounding Vince Wilfork and the Jets anticipating the return of their defense almost intact next season:

(In parentheses are the regular-season performance rankings by the film analysts at

Nose tackle
Jets: Sione Pouha (plus-15.2)
Patriots: Vince Wilfork (plus-9.6)
Rex Ryan's defense appears not to have lost much since the injury to Kris Jenkins. Pouha is a terrific run-stopper who can shed blocks quickly enough to make tackles. Wilfork, however, still is a Pro Bowler and one of the top nose tackles in the NFL. Edge: Patriots.

Defensive end
Jets: Shaun Ellis (minus-0.7), Marques Douglas (minus-2.7)
Patriots: Jarvis Green (minus-14.1), Ty Warren (plus-3.9)
Green had a chance to seize control of the job at defensive end upon the trade of Richard Seymour but too often found himself pushed off the line on running plays and unable to get close to the quarterback on passing plays. When Wilfork moved to end in the Patriots' playoff game, it was Green who went to the bench with Mike Wright playing the nose. In a 3-4 defense, the defensive linemen first and foremost must occupy blockers to give the linebackers a chance to make plays, and Douglas and Ellis did that better than Green and Warren. Edge: Jets.

Outside linebacker
Jets: Calvin Pace (plus-6.9), Bryan Thomas (plus-11.8)
Patriots: Tully Banta-Cain (plus-21.8), Adalius Thomas (minus-8.5)
As disappointing as Thomas was, that's how surprising Banta-Cain was. Pace, on the other hand, played a well-rounded game against both the run and the pass, even finishing with eight sacks, while Thomas thrived as a run-stopper off the edge, finishing the regular season with more than 50 tackles for the third time in four seasons. Edge: Jets.

Inside linebacker
Jets: David Harris (plus-6.8), Bart Scott (plus-4.7)
Patriots: Gary Guyton (minus-2.2), Jerod Mayo (minus-3.5)
No contest. While Mayo endured something of a disappointing second season, Harris emerged as a star alongside the veteran Scott, an import from Ryan's Baltimore Ravens defenses. Scott plugged the middle of the line on runs and Harris thrived both in blitzes and in pass coverage, finishing with 5 1/2 sacks, three pass break-ups and two interceptions. Edge: Jets.

Jets: Darrelle Revis (plus-29.1), Lito Sheppard (minus-1.7)
Patriots: Leigh Bodden (plus-6.8), Shawn Springs (plus-1.7)
Quarterbacks just don't throw at Revis. The Patriots haven't had anyone like that since the departure of Ty Law. Edge: Jets.

Strong safety
Jets: Jim Leonhard (plus-5.1)
Patriots: James Sanders (minus-1.4)
Leonhard, another Ryan import from Baltimore, had an uneven season against the run but broke up five passes and thrived in deep pass coverage. Sanders lost his job to Brandon McGowan early in the season and won it back down the stretch, finishing with his lowest tackle total (48) in three seasons. Edge: Jets.

Free safety
Jets: Kerry Rhodes (plus-11.0)
Patriots: Brandon Meriweather (plus-5.0)
Despite Meriweather's selection to the Pro Bowl, the last memory one will take into the offseason will be the way Ray Rice blew past him on his 83-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the first round of the playoffs. Meriweather intercepted five passes and forced two fumbles, but his play generally was more inconsistent than it should have been. Rhodes, on the other hand, didn't have a particularly bad game all season, and he broke up 13 passes in his center-field role for the Jets. Edge: Push.


Let's revisit the question: Of the Jets' and Patriots' top 11 defenders, who would you take? In other words, if the rosters were combined, who of the Patriots' defenders would start?

Wilfork would start at nose. Warren would start at end with either Douglas or Ellis at the other end. Banta-Cain would be a third-down pass-rusher behind Pace, probably. Bodden would start at corner opposite Revis. Meriweather might -- might -- start at free safety instead of Rhodes, but that's a toss-up at best.

The Jets' top-ranked defense wasn't a fluke, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. If quarterback Mark Sanchez takes a reasonable step forward in his second season, the Patriots are going to have some serious trouble hanging onto the AFC East title.

How often should Ortiz play?

"David's a big -- I don't want to say question mark because he's not a question mark, but when David hits, we're different. Same thing when he doesn't hit. When you have a guy who is a full-time DH, he has to hit.'' -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

Talk about disparate numbers: Here's David Ortiz before and after the All-Star break last season, the most difficult season of his Red Sox career:

Before: .733 OPS
After: .866 OPS

Talk about disparate numbers: Here's David Ortiz against lefthanded pitching and against righthanded pitching last season:

LHP: .716 OPS
RHP: .828 OPS

Against lefties, in other words, he was his first-half self. Against righties, he was his second-half self -- a well above-average hitter capable of hitting in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

The question begs itself: At what point do the Red Sox start considering playing Ortiz only against righthanded pitchers and sitting him against lefties?

The answer: When a better option presents itself.

The Red Sox have brought righty Bill Hall and lefty Jeremy Hermida on board to provide a little thump off the bench, and righty Mike Lowell -- if he's not traded, anyway -- and switch-hitter Jason Varitek remain options as well.

Terry Francona will have plenty of choices as he makes out his lineups against both righties and lefties this season:

Against righthanded pitching
Hall: .589 last season/.725 career
Hermida: .786 last season/.792 career
Lowell: .784 last season/.798 career
Ortiz: .828 last season/.964 career
Varitek: .666 last season/.759 career

Best option: Ortiz. That seems clear.

Against lefthanded pitching
Hall: .606 last season/.810 career
Hermida: .601 last season/.697 career
Lowell: .867 last season/.850 career
Ortiz: .716 last season/.819 career
Varitek: .807 last season/.828 career

Best option: Lowell. That seems clear, too.

If Lowell is traded, though: Would you believe it's Varitek?

If the goal is to keep Victor Martinez as fresh as possible, it might make sense for him to play first base or serve as designated hitter against lefties as often as possible. If Varitek plays exclusively against lefties, it would mean Ortiz probably would sit against most lefties.

If last season's numbers are to believed, though, replacing Ortiz with Varitek against lefthanded pitchers, either as the catcher with Martinez DH'ing or as the DH himself, would mean a significant upgrade at the plate.

Monday, January 18, 2010

$10 million far from out of line for Papelbon

Statistics these days certainly can be overwhelming. Wins Above Replacement is a particularly fuzzy stat because it depends on so many factors and is about as easy to calculate as the NFL's quarterback rating. It's easy to say that Jon Lester was worth 6.2 wins to the Red Sox last season while Jonathan Papelbon was worth 1.9, but what does that really mean?

How can you really compare the contribution of a starting pitcher to the contribution of a relief pitcher in a way that makes sense?

Let's figure out a rough but simple measure of pitcher production, then. Every scoreless inning a pitcher throws is a good thing. Every run a pitcher allows is a bad thing. Let's say a pitcher earns one Pitcher Production Point (PPP) for every scoreless inning he pitches, and he loses one PPP for every earned runs run he allows.

A relief pitcher with a 3.00 ERA in 60 innings, for example, would finish with 40 Triple-Ps. A starting pitcher with a 3.00 ERA in 180 innings would finish with 120 Triple-Ps because he would have pitched significantly more effective innings than a relief pitcher with the same ERA.

That's the idea: Just like how hitting .300 over 600 at-bats is more valuable than hitting .300 over 400 at-bats -- there are, after all, 60 more hits involved -- a low ERA is more valuable the more innings a pitcher can pitch. Make sense?

Here are the top five Red Sox pitchers last season as measured in Triple-Ps, including their newest acquisition:

Jon Lester: 126 1/3
Josh Beckett: 121 1/3
John Lackey: 101 1/3
Tim Wakefield: 63 2/3
Jonathan Papelbon: 54

Factoring in salary for 2010 makes the list look a little different:

Lester: $3.75 million
Beckett: $12.1 million
Lackey: $18.7 million
Wakefield: $3.5 million
Papelbon: $10 million?

First things first: It seems clear that Papelbon was less valuable last season than any of the team's front-line starting pitchers. Even Clay Buchholz accumulated 49 Triple-Ps, and he didn't make his first appearance in the major leagues until after the All-Star break. Starting pitchers inherently are more valuable than relief pitchers.

Papelbon finished last season with less than half the production, as measured by Triple-Ps, of Beckett, and he's going to go to arbitration looking for a salary close to what Beckett will earn. Papelbon finished last season with less than half the production of Lester, and he's going to go to arbitration looking for a salary close to three times what Lester will get.

The only salary with which Papelbon might line up is Lackey. He'll earn a little more than half of what Lackey earns after producing a little more than half of what Lackey produced. On the open market, $10 million for Papelbon actually looks relatively reasonable.

But the salary structure of baseball rewards veterans who hit the open market and curtails the earning power of younger players who don't yet have the service time to get to the open market. When you're talking about quantifying the value a player brings to a team, that artificial structure almost becomes irrelevant. No, Papelbon wasn't three times as valuable as Lester was to the Red Sox, but he certainly was just about half as valuable as Lackey was to the Angels.

(For the record, WAR bears that out, too: has Lackey compiling a WAR of 3.9 last season. Papelbon, once again, compiled a WAR of 1.9 -- and that was in a relatively bad season by his standards.)

Lester compromised a higher short-term salary for the certainty of $30 million over the next five seasons. That was his decision. Had he chosen to go to arbitration -- he'd be eligible for the first time this season -- he'd have been within his rights to ask for a number similar to the $6.25 million to which Papelbon agreed last season. He's been one of the top pitchers in the American League in each of the last two seasons and the ace of the Red Sox staff.

Lackey, on the other hand, got to the free market and thus will be paid a salary far more commensurate with his value to a team. One can question the deal -- and, given the sport's economic climate, it certainly looks inflated both in years and in value -- but the Red Sox wouldn't be paying Lackey close to $19 million next season if they didn't think they were going to get close to $19 million in value from him.

If the Red Sox believe Lackey's production is worth close to $20 million, Papelbon's production certainly is worth $10 million.

A long journey awaits late-round pick Hassan

A year ago at this time, not only was Alex Hassan gearing up for his spring semester at Duke, but he was gearing up both to pitch and to play the outfield for the Blue Devils and doing all the work that goes along with playing two ways.

With spring training less than six weeks away, though, Hassan is finishing up as single-minded an offseason as he's ever enjoyed. The Milton, Mass., native was drafted by the Red Sox as a pitcher last June but will be a full-time outfielder when he reports to Fort Myers next month.

"This is really the first time I've been able to concentrate solely on baseball and solely on one position," said Hassan in a conversation before the Boston baseball writers' dinner last week. "Before, it was like, 'Yeah, I have to lift weights, but I also have a bullpen today and I have to pitch a lot.' It was tough to balance those two things. This offseason, I got to really focus -- not only not having school but also having one clear position as what I'm going to do. That's really been beneficial for me this offseason."

Hassan doesn't have nearly the same name recognition as the top Red Sox prospects whose names are bandied about even by those who couldn't pick their faces out of a game program. (He especially doesn't have the same name recognition as another prospect who recently had to make the same type of decision.)

Hassan, a 20th-round pick last June, doesn't enjoy the same chances to make it, either: Mike Lowell came out of the 20th round of the 1995 draft, but only one other player drafted in the same round as Lowell that year ever made an appearance in a major-league game. The vast majority of 20th-round picks flame out before they ever reach the big leagues.

He faces particularly steep odds in a Red Sox system stacked with outfielders. Josh Reddick made his major-league debut last season, and Ryan Kalish isn't far behind him. Che-Hsuan Lin is participating in the Red Sox rookie development program this week in Boston. Ryan Westmoreland and Reymond Fuentes have a ways to go but are expected to be impact players at some point in the future.

That can be intimidating for a player who's not as highly touted as any of the above players. That, though, also can be exciting.

"A big thing with signing with the Red Sox is that they have an outstanding player-development program," he said. "You can just look at the major-league team right now and see how many home-grown guys they have and also see the guys in the organization now that are improving and moving up. I was picked by a team who has a lot of talent, but I was also picked by a team who is really good at developing talent."

He didn't exactly draw the spotlight to himself last week, standing alone against a wall as reporters flocked first to John Lackey and later to John Farrell and Terry Francona. He was barely noticed, let alone recognized -- but he also looked just as in awe of the faces in the same room as he would have been as a teenager at Boston College High School.

But the Red Sox didn't draft him for his ability to attract attention from the media -- a fickle group if there ever was one. The Red Sox drafted him because he hit 17 doubles and accumulated an on-base percentage of .419 during his junior season at Duke and because he struck out more than a batter an inning in his 16 appearances on the mound.

He both pitched and played in the outfield for Orleans of the Cape Cod Baseball League, too, compiling a 1.13 ERA in seven appearances and hitting .289 with a .344 on-base percentage in 114 at-bats.

Once he signed with the Red Sox, though, the Red Sox informed him they wanted him to focus full-time on hitting and playing the outfield. He hit over .328 and OBP'ed .375 in 135 plate appearances split between Single-A Lowell and Single-A Salem, and he then reported to Fort Myers with most of the rest of his draft class for the team's Fall Instructional League program.

All of that work has put himself into position to open his first full season at Single-A Greenville, the first rung on the ladder of full-season minor-league affilates.

"I'm really, really happy I signed when I did," he said. "Had I waited until the signing deadline, I probably wouldn't have gotten that experience, that first taste of professional baseball. Going into my first full professional season, it's good to have an idea of how pro ball works and what the schedule is like and what the grind of the season is like. ...

"I only played 35 or so games, but that will really pay off when I go into my first full season."

He took a couple of weeks off when he got home from Fort Myers -- college teams, after all, get started even earlier than professional teams do -- but threw himself right into his workouts after that. He started hitting again once the calendar turned to January and has been taking swings every day since then. Pat Sandora, the team's strength and conditioning coordinator for the minor leagues, has been his primary contact as he's gone through his offseason workouts.

He met with director of player development Mike Hazen during the Instructional League program in early October to lay out his goals both for the offseason and for the coming season -- goals that can be hard to define at such an early stage of his career. It would be nice if he could hit the ball over the fence a half-dozen times in the early going, but home-run hitters rarely become home-run hitters by focusing too much on that part of their game.

"There are things I'll definitely want to work on and want to do better," he said, "but a lot of this stuff is out of my control. The things I can control are playing hard and working hard. As long as I'm doing that and I continue to work as hard as I possibly can, those things hopefully will take care of themselves and I won't have to sit and worry about what my numbers look like. As long as I come in and play hard every day and work hard throughout the offseason and throughout the year, hopefully, as a result of the hard work, the numbers will get better -- the power, the stuff like that will get better just by working hard.

"That's not something I sit home and am going to worry about or try to force something to happen."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good pitching beats good hitting

Those who believe the Red Sox still need another bat in the middle of the lineup make the point that the Red Sox too often were vulnerable against good pitching, too easily beaten by the elite arms in the American League.

In a lot of ways -- even though your small-sample-size alarm should start going off in situations like this -- they're right. Here's how the Red Sox fared last season against the top five opposing pitchers in the American League as ranked by ERA+:

Zack Greinke: 2-for-20 (.100), 0 R in 6 IP, .367 OPS
Felix Hernandez: 7-for-28 (.250), 3 R in 7 IP, .764 OPS
Roy Halladay: 24-for-109 (.220), 9 R in 29 IP, .614 OPS
Justin Verlander: 4-for-28 (.143), 0 R in 8 IP, .440 OPS
CC Sabathia: 17-for-99 (.172), 7 ER in 28 1/3 IP, .467 OPS

Opponents combined for a .641 OPS last season against those five pitchers. The Red Sox managed a .641 OPS last season against just one of them. Most hitters have trouble against elite pitching, but the Red Sox did seem to have more trouble than most.

Let's break it down even farther with the help of the numbers at, where hitters' statistics are broken down by opposing pitchers' ERA. Here's how each of the Red Sox fared last season against opposing pitchers with a sub-3.50 ERA:

Jason Varitek, C: .480 OPS
Kevin Youkilis, 1B, .642
Dustin Pedroia, 2B: .605
Nick Green, SS: .350
Mike Lowell, 3B: .669
J.D. Drew, RF: .727
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF: .665
Jason Bay, LF: .778
David Ortiz, DH: .766
Roughly calculated average: .631 OPS

Compare that to the expected Opening Day lineup for this season -- still using, of course, last year's statistics:

Victor Martinez, C: .635 OPS
Kevin Youkilis, 1B: .642
Dustin Pedroia, 2B: .605
Marco Scutaro, SS: .881
Adrian Beltre, 3B: .614
J.D. Drew, RF: .727
Mike Cameron, CF: .569
Jacoby Ellsbury, LF: .665
David Ortiz, DH: .766
Roughly calculated average: .678 OPS

Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox actually will field a team that's better at hitting good pitchers -- again, as defined by a sub-3.50 ERA -- than it was a year ago. Marco Scutaro, for one, was more than twice as productive against good pitchers as Nick Green was.

But is it enough? Just for fun, let's compare it to the Yankees' anticipated Opening Day lineup and how well Joe Girardi's team hits good pitching:

Jorge Posada, C: .842 OPS
Mark Teixeira, 1B: .816
Robinson Cano, 2B: .639
Derek Jeter, SS: .785
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: 1.066
Nick Swisher, RF: .714
Curtis Granderson, CF: .685
Brett Gardner, LF: .727
Nick Johnson, DH: .887
Roughly calculated average: .796

Yeah, there might still be room for the Red Sox to improve.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lackey used to be a power-hitting outfielder

John Farrell first met John Lackey a decade ago when the newest Red Sox ace was coming off a National Junior College Athletic Association title with Grayson County College. Farrell wanted to recruit him to play for Oklahoma State but knew he had little chance to do so -- especially after the Angels drafted Lackey in the second round of the June draft.

"I was chasing somebody upstream," Farrell said. "He was long past the thought of going on to (a four-year) school rather than signing a pro contract."

The impression that stuck with Farrell, though, had nothing to do with the way Lackey pitched.

"He was a heck of a hitter," Farrell said.

Lackey pitched and swung a bat as an outfielder as the Vikings won the first of back-to-back NJCAA World Series titles. Lackey didn't participate in the second of those championship runs, however: He by then was climbing from Single-A to Double-A in the Angels' organization and would get to the major leagues two years after that.

Lackey will sit down with Farrell for the first time today to get to know each other and to start to build the relationship necessary for the Red Sox to get the best out of their new pitcher. Lackey worked out at Fenway Park on Thursday and still has some house-hunting to do, but he'll have his first real meeting with his new pitching coach in the meantime.

"I talked to him a little bit today, and we're going to have a meeting tomorrow," Lackey said in a meeting with the media on Thursday night before the Boston baseball writers' dinner. "We're going to start talking about my routines and bounce some ideas off each other."

Farrell isn't exactly going to start off by asserting his own philosophy. Lackey has won more than 100 games and struck out more than 1,200 hitters in his career thus far because he knows what he's doing on the mound.

Still, though, Farrell is considered one of the best pitching coaches in the business for a reason.

"The first and foremost thing will be to listen," Farrell said. "I want to hear from him what his routine entails, what has worked well for him in the past, and I want to do our best to facilitate a plan for him that puts him in the best position to start the season on time and in a very effective way."

One item that will not be discussed? Hitting.

Some might believe that the Red Sox still need one more power bat, but Lackey will not be that bat.

"Not that I'm aware of," Farrell said with a chuckle. "He's an exceptional pitcher and one we're excited to have here, for sure."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Red Sox expect big things from Delcarmen

The Red Sox have lost Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner from the bullpen they took into the American League Division Series and haven't added any name bigger than Boof Bonser, a former starter with a live arm who seemed to wash out with the Minnesota Twins.

Pitching coach John Farrell, though, has one more move in mind.

"One of the biggest acquisitions we could make is getting Manny Delcarmen back to the form he was for the two and a half years prior to the second half of the '09 season," Farrell said on Thursday night before the Boston baseball writers' dinner. "He was one of the top four or five middle relievers in all of baseball. He's a key part of our bullpen, and getting him back to the form he pitched with for that two-and-a-half-year stretch will go a long way toward putting him in that same type of category of performer that he was."

The disastrous way Delcarmen finished last season does obscure the way Delcarmen had pitched for the Red Sox the two years previous. Only six middle relievers had a lower opponents' OPS than Delcarmen in 2007 and 2008 combined:

(min. 80 IP, max. 20 saves)
1. Carlos Marmol, .508 OPS
2. Russ Springer, .550
3. Heath Bell, .567
4. Joba Chamberlain, .585
5. Hideki Okajima, .586
6. Rafael Soriano, .586
7. Manny Delcarmen, .590

Only four relief pitchers -- Marmol, Soriano, Springer and Pat Neshek -- limited opponents to a lower batting average (.197) in that two-year span.

Delcarmen didn't start the 2009 season off too badly, either -- as evidenced by the 0.00 ERA he took into early May. He didn't allow his first earned run of the season until his 12th appearance, and he didn't allow his third earned run of the season until his 20th. His ERA still was 1.07 on June 9 and as low as 1.93 on July 8.

That's when it all started going downhill. Delcarmen allowed two runs and took the loss against Oakland on July 28 and allowed two more runs in the ridiculous 18-10 game at Baltimore four days later. The low point of his season came in September when he allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning -- and that came on the heels of an appearance in which he allowed two earned runs without recording an out.

The Red Sox had virtually no choice but to leave him off the ALDS roster in favor of Paul Byrd.

That doesn't mean, though, they've given up on him.

"A lot of times, the most recent outings are the most fresh in guys' minds and how they draw confidence," Farrell said. "It'll be important for us to get him into a confident state as we get into spring training and continue to build on that."

Delcarmen and his agent disclosed in December that he'd been pitching through fatigue in his shoulder in the second half, something he hadn't told the team during the season. It couldn't have been a stunning disclosure after he'd made 73 appearances the previous season -- but if he'd told the team ahead of time, they might have made the decision to shut him down sooner.

Either way, with a winter's worth of rest behind him, the righty will have a chance to assert himself once again as the team's best weapon against mix-and-match lineups: In his career, righthanded hitters actually have a higher OPS against him (.719) than lefties (.664).

"There was some fatigue that set on him with his shoulder toward the end of the season, and that's what kept him off the postseason roster," Farrell said. "It wasn't to the extent of a major injury, but it was enough to affect the results in certain outings. At that point, it became a little bit of a confidence issue. He didn't have the need for any repair or anything like that.

"He's still Manny Delcarmen, the guy that was very effective for us, and we anticipate and expect him to get back to that level."

Hermida, Magadan getting to know each other

Newly acquired Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida had his first session with hitting coach Dave Magadan on Thursday. It was far too early for Magadan to start offering any tips. Instead, it was a pretty basic getting-to-know-you session to kick off what the Red Sox have to hope will be a productive relationship.

"I'm sure he's seen some film and watched me swing," Hermida said on Thursday night before the Boston baseball writers' dinner. "I've talked to him on the phone, but getting a chance to shake his hand and meet him face-to-face is always good. We did that today -- and talked hitting, talking about things I think about, things I go through, and the process that goes on with my swing so he can learn my swing inside and out."

Magadan now will be charged with turning Hermida back into the hitter so many believed he would be.

The former first-round draft pick never lived up to his potential with the Marlins, hitting 18 home runs with an OPS of .870 three seasons ago but seeing a dramatic downturn in his numbers after that. His slugging percentage in 2009 (.392) was more than 100 points lower than his slugging percentage in 2007 (.501).

He's still young enough -- he won't turn 26 until the end of the month -- that the Red Sox are willing to invest in him as a fourth outfielder with tremendous upside. To tap into that upside, though, he and Magadan have to figure out what's been going wrong.

One session wasn't enough to do that, certainly.

"We haven't gotten there yet," Hermida said. "That'll probably be a little bit in spring training. But I'm all for it. If you ever stop learning this game, you've got a big problem. No matter where you're at, going into spring training, every year, everybody's got something to learn."

One thing the Red Sox do is preach patience at the plate, making pitchers work, grinding out at-bats. In talking about Jacoby Ellsbury last season, Magadan said he doesn't want his hitters swinging at the first pitch unless they have a history of doing damage on the first pitch. Kevin Youkilis has a green light to swing at the first pitch because he typically does so much damage. Mike Lowell, too, is a terrific first-pitch hitter. Ellsbury, on the other hand, needed to be more patient because he wasn't doing enough damage on the first pitch.

Hermida came through the minor leagues as a patient hitter. In a full season at Double-A as a 21-year-old, he accumulated more walks (111) than strikeouts (89), a remarkable feat for a hitter so young. He routinely averages more than 4.0 pitches per plate appearance and certainly fits the grind-it-out identity of the Red Sox lineup.

"I've been a guy that's walked a good amount in my career," he said. "I've gotten away from that at certain times, trying to learn to be an aggressive hitter. Sometimes I've been actually too patient, and that's gotten me in trouble a little bit. But coming up through the minor leagues and my first couple of years, I've been a guy that's been a pretty good on-base percentage guy. I know that's what they preach around here, and I think that's part of the reason why, hopefully, I'm going to fit in around here."

But Hermida actually is a terrific first-pitch hitter, too. He has a career OPS of 1.051 when swinging at the first pitch, more than 100 points higher than the major-league average. His career OPS within the first three pitches of an at-bat (.842) is significantly higher than his career OPS beyond the third pitch of an at-bat (.708).

(One would expect any hitter to have more success early in the count than later on the count. The above discrepancy, though, is even more pronounced than that of Youkilis -- .924 early in the count, .843 late in the count.)

Hermida is a patient hitter who, like most, does most of his damage early in the count. That might explain why his swinging percentages have swung so wildly back and forth since his first full season:

Out-of-zone swing percentage
2006: 19 percent
2007: 22.2 percent
2008: 27.8 percent
2009: 23.9 percent

Zone swing percentage
2006: 64.1 percent
2007: 64.2 percent
2008: 59.6 percent
2009: 61.7 percent

Between 2007 and 2008, Hermida swung at more pitches out of the strike zone and fewer pitches in the strike zone. It shouldn't be surprising his production nose-dived the way it did.

Finding a happy medium is an ongoing process.

"I don't know if there's necessarily a rule of thumb to follow," he said. "If there was, I think everybody would do it. It's a tough thing, and Mags, he's got some guys on this team like Youk and (Dustin) Pedroia that do it pretty well, so, hopefully, I can pick a little bit off them and use it for myself."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farrell: Papelbon to stick with what worked

Jonathan Papelbon made a subtle but important change to the mechanics of his delivery midway through last season, allowing his hands to fall to his belt buckle when he came set rather than holding them rigidly at his chest the way he had the first half of the season.

Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Thursday before the annual awards dinner hosted by the Boston chapter of the BBWAA that Papelbon will start next season with the same mechanics with which he finished last season.

"At this point, he'll stay with what he did in the second half," Farrell said. "The adjustment made in spring training was to help get his legs a little bit more actively involved in his delivery and to take some of the stress off his shoulder. As he made the switch with his hands, the starting point of his hands and how that movement works in his delivery, we saw him regain the well-above-average fastball command that he needs."

It paid dividends. Check out his numbers up until July 28, the day of the implosion against the Oakland Athletics that seemed to prompt the change, and after July 28:

April 7-July 28: 2.09 ERA, 1.372 WHIP, .670 OPS against
July 29-Oct. 4: 1.44 ERA, 0.920 WHIP, .466 OPS against

(This again is where it's important not to make too much out of the Game 3 disaster against the Los Angeles Angels. A 25-inning sample is far more telling than a 25-pitch sample.)

Compare that to the seasons past in which Papelbon had pitched
2008: 2.34 ERA, 0.952 WHIP, .561 OPS against
2007: 1.85 ERA, 0.771 WHIP, .463 OPS against
2006: 0.92 ERA, 0.776 WHIP, .465 OPS against

Suffice to say, Papelbon looked far more like himself in the final two months of last season than he did before he made the mechanical change.

The change in mechanics raises eyebrows, of course, in that the Red Sox have consistently made an effort to protect the shoulder of their All-Star closer. Papelbon almost abandoned closing three years ago for the starting rotation because the once-a-week routine of starting would put less stress on his shoulder than pitching on back-to-back days out of the bullpen.

The Red Sox still are trying to find the best way to minimize wear on the shoulder of Papelbon while, of course, maximizing effectiveness. That process goes back to the start of his major-league career and has had several permutations over the years -- the most recent being the decision last spring to put his hands at his chest when coming set.

"With that change came a little more inconsistency with location," Farrell said, "but we saw the life of the fastball pick up. To counteract and find that balance again of command plus life, he went back to what he did at the end of '08 -- and the numbers directly show that, as well."

That doesn't mean, Farrell insisted, that Papelbon will be more at risk for a trip to the disabled list this spring than he was last spring.

"By using this year what he finished the year with last year, we don't think it's going to be cause for a red flag: 'This is going to put more stress on your shoulder, and we've got to be careful,'" Farrell said. "There's not that involved."