Friday, March 5, 2010

Closing up shop

This blog will go dark for good effective immediately: I have accepted a job covering the Red Sox for the Providence Journal and will start March 15.

Thanks to those of you who ever made a visit or left a comment or voted in a poll. Thanks in particular to those who have been regular readers over the last 18 months or so. It's been a blast -- and I hope you'll keep reading once I get started at the Journal. Everything I've been doing here independently, I'm going to try to carry over in my new job.

I'll have a new email address once I get started. In the meantime, you can always get in touch with me with criticism, praise or just to talk Red Sox at
Thanks. See you soon.

(By request: My new blog will be here.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A big year for Junichi Tazawa

Junichi Tazawa, who pitched a scoreless inning today in his first spring training appearance, almost certainly is destined for Triple-A Pawtucket when the Red Sox head north. Tazawa got his first taste of the major leagues last season, compiling a 7.46 ERA in six appearances and, most memorably, surrendering a walk-off home run to Alex Rodriguez in the 14th inning of an epic game in early August.

Everything that happened last season was about gaining experience -- and every pitch thrown in the major leagues was a bonus.

"I don't know if I would have sat here and said, 'We'll see him pitching in the big leagues,'" Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Helping our ballclub, that was a lot to ask last year."

Here's the only problem: Tazawa isn't 20 years old. He's not 21, either. He turned 23 midway through last season, and that's the age at which many young pitchers start to blossom. There were 25 players who threw at least as many major-league innings as he did at the age of 22 or younger. Eight of those pitchers, including emerging stars Brett Anderson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Holland and Rick Porcello, threw more than 100 major-league innings.

Other names on the list include Neftali Feliz, Brian Matusz, Jon Niese and Chris Tillman, all pitchers expected to make a significant impact on their respective teams this season at the age of 22 or 23. Heck, Tazawa is three months older than Michael Bowden, the longtime prospect on whom it seems many are ready to give up.

Tazawa will turn 24 in mid-June, and that means the clock is starting to tick a little bit. Prospects who haven't made an impact in the major leagues by the time they're 25 tend not to be considered prospects anymore. Josh Beckett was 23 when he struck out 150 hitters for the first time. Jon Lester was 23 when he won a World Series clincher. John Lackey was, too.

Tazawa, of course, doesn't have the same type of ceiling as Beckett, Lackey or Lester. But even if you look at him as a back-of-the-rotation swingman in the mold of Justin Masterson, well, Masterson was pitching key innings in the postseason at 23 and taking the place of Tim Wakefield in the starting rotation at 24.

The righty remains an intriguing possibility for the Red Sox either as a starter or a reliever. He'll open the season at Triple-A Pawtucket and will have a chance to keep piling up innings and to keep working on his pitches. He'll certainly be in the mix should the Red Sox run into any depth issues with their pitching staff -- but it'll take either a significant injury or a significant step forward in his development for him to make a significant impact at the major-league level.

Like Bowden, if he's going to deliver on his big promise, his window isn't going to stay open forever.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Casey Fien will be in the mix

(Or, you know, not: Fien was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays three days after the Red Sox claimed him.)

When the Red Sox claimed righty Casey Fien off waivers on Monday and added him to their 40-man roster, the first number that seemed to jump out was the 7.94 ERA he compiled in his first stint in the major leagues -- an ERA compiled in just 11 1/3 innings of work.

The rest of his numbers look terrific.

Fien made nine appearances with the Detroit Tigers last season, including three outings in mop-up duty in which he gave up at least two earned runs. He struck out nine and walked six. He didn't pitch much at all in high-leverage situations.

Still, though: He only pitched 11 1/3 innings. There's no way to make any type of decision on a player based on 11 1/3 innings.

(The same goes for Michael Bowden, the former top prospect who seems thrown by the wayside because he had a bad relief appearance in New York and a bad start against Toronto three days later. If he was a prospect before last season, a handful of rough outings in less-than-ideal situations doesn't change anything.)

Check out Fien's minor-league numbers:

Single-A (103 1/3 IP): 2.95 ERA, 1.080 WHIP, 6.33 K/BB ratio
Double-A (45 2/3 IP): 2.96 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, 3.5 K/BB ratio
Triple-A (73 IP): 3.21 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 4.37 K/BB ratio

Any guesses how many Red Sox relievers had a K/BB ratio of better than 3.5 last season? Good guess: None of them.

For the sake of comparison, in the final full season Daniel Bard pitched in the minor leagues, he compiled a K/BB ratio of 3.57 in almost 80 innings split between Single-A and Double-A. That's well under the 4.40 ratio Fien compiled in almost a full season at Triple-A Toledo last season.

The righty has impressed everywhere he's pitched. He looked particularly good last season against righthanded pitching, naturally, limiting opposing hitters to a .212 batting average and compiling a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 9.2.

Baseball America did not rank Fien among its top 10 prospects -- not surprising given that middle relievers don't tend to have much upside and thus not much value in the prospect universe. For the Red Sox, though, a middle reliever with command could be a tremendous asset. Fien likely will start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket but will be in the mix for a promotion and a real crack at the major leagues should a job open up in the bullpen at Fenway Park.

Kalish looks more ready than Reddick

Mike Cameron, as a Red Sox fanbase prone to panic already is aware, will sit out the team's doubleheader on Wednesday against Boston College and Northeastern. Cameron tweaked his groin on Sunday and is going to take things easy for a few days.

That's the adventure that comes with counting on a 37-year-old center fielder. Good health isn't exactly a guarantee.

(This is why the Red Sox were reluctant to commit $15 million a year for four or five years to Jason Bay, who will turn 36 years old in his final season with the Mets should his $17 million option vest. That's another discussion for another time.)

This tweak might be minor, but another injury might not be so minor. There just aren't many outfielders at Cameron's age who can play every day. Only five outfielders last season played more than 140 games at the age of 35 or older:
* Cameron, age 36
* Bobby Abreu, age 35
* Johnny Damon, age 35
* Jermaine Dye, age 35
* Ichiro Suzuki, age 35
* Randy Winn, age 35

Dye is still looking for a job. Damon had to wait until after Valentine's Day to land a job of his own. Winn will be a part-time outfielder with the Yankees. Older outfielders, especially in an era without the fountains of youth the previous era enjoyed, aren't particularly reliable.

Should Cameron go down, the Red Sox have a capable backup in Jeremy Hermida, a corner outfielder who would push Jacoby Ellsbury back to center field. But the Red Sox all of a sudden would be very thin in the outfield, and it might become necessary to call upon almost-ready-for-prime-time prospects Ryan Kalish and/or Josh Reddick, who both will start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket.

How might they fare?

There are ways to project their performance. One such measure is called "Major League Equivalents," a device invented by Bill James in the mid-1980s that can approximate, to a certain degree, what a player might do in the major leagues.

Here's that approximation for Kalish and Reddick:

(MLEs calculated by

Ryan Kalish
Single-A (127 plate appearances): .306/.435/.514
Double-A (419 plate appearances): .263/.336/.772
MLE: .216/.270/.337

Josh Reddick
Double-A (274 plate appearances): .273/.349/.522
Triple-A (77 plate appearances): .127/.190/.183
MLE: .111/.165/.167

Keep in mind that the MLEs don't factor in year-to-year improvement. In other words, while Reddick might have been expected to OPS under .400 if he'd played last season in the major leagues, he wouldn't be expected to do so if he plays this season in the major leagues. Consider the final MLE of Dustin Pedroia before he made the leap to the major leagues:

2006 in Triple-A: .294/.385/.454
2006 MLE: .243/.317/.355
2007 in majors: .317/.380/.442

Pedroia came far closer to his actual Triple-A numbers from the previous season than to his major-league equivalent -- in large part because he'd had almost 493 extra plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket and almost 100 more in the major leagues to hone his swing.

But the above numbers still do tell you something. What's most interesting is that Kalish -- who hasn't yet played a game at Triple-A -- had better major-league equivalent numbers than Reddick. His advanced plate discipline has quite a bit to do with that. Reddick walked just 35 times in almost 350 plate appearances while Kalish walked 67 times in under 550 plate appearances.

Reddick got a handful of at-bats at Pawtucket last season as well as in the major leagues. He's on the 40-man roster, too. Kalish hasn't yet climbed that rung of the ladder. Should one or both be needed, though, the above MLE numbers indicate that Kalish might be closer to ready than Reddick is.