2/23/12 Rays 4, Sox 3

Box Score

I don’t intend to post about every spring training game because that would be tedious for everyone involved. This was the first televised game of the spring, through, so I’m going to post away.

Don and Jerry were in midseason form, laughing it up and neglecting to tell us who was batting–before the fifth inning and everything got screwy. I rather suspect this is going to be a terrible season in that regard.

John Lackey looked like a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year and a half. His arm didn’t fly off and hit someone in the stands, so it was a positive outing.

Pretty much all the Red Sox pitchers looked rusty save Alex Wilson who struck out three. Methinks he wants to make the big club out of spring training. I rather suspect he will be disappointed in that, but he’s definitely one of the guys who should get called up when injuries strike.

All three Red Sox runs were driven in by shortstop prospects, which was interesting. Don and Jerry said that Jose Iglesias put on ten pounds of muscle in the off season. He may look a little thicker around the middle, but he’s still pretty scrawny. Still, he hit a two run homer on a nice high fat pitch. Progress, as we say, is progress. Xander Bogaerts drove in the other run with a nice hard single in the ninth.

Other than that, pretty boring game, but baseball is back and all is well with the world.

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2013 Red Sox Preview: Infield

The infield for the Sox is, surprise, in a bit of flux.

Dustin Pedroia is clearly one of the cornerstones of the team, both because he consistently produces, and because he’s a vocal mouthpiece. It works because he plays his balls off and produces, and it works because he runs his mouth like nobody’s business.

None of the other spots in the infield are really stable.

Mike Napoli was supposed to provide some stability at a position where the organization doesn’t have a lot of depth but the hip condition pretty much killed that. The impression I get is that he can go along without symptoms for a long time, but someday his hip is simply going to degrade too much, too quickly, for the Sox to make him a long term commitment. If he’s still the Sox first baseman in 2015, it is likely he is on a third one year contract.

That makes finding depth at the position one of the organizations priorities for 2013. The folks in the minors aren’t terribly exciting. If you look at Baseball Americas top 30, you don’t find a first baseman until you get to #23 Travis Shaw who played a month at AA Portland with results that were uninspiring. If either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts own the position, perhaps Garin Cecchini moves over to first, but he hasn’t played above Hi-A Salem and that’s a long ways away.

Xander Bogaerts is really the one driving the action. If he projects to stick at short for several years–and at this point the consensus seems to be that he does–then he’s going to own that position. That leaves Jose Iglesias without a position, almost entirely. It would be incredibly difficult for someone with Iglesias’ hitting history to develop enough ability in that area to make up for the gulf between him and Bogaerts in terms of total package. I rather suspect that Iglesias would make a phenomenal utility infielder. He clearly has the defensive chops at short, and the transition to second probably wouldn’t be particularly difficult. In addition, he seems to have enough speed and base stealing chops to be used in that role off the bench.

Still, for this year, it will be Will Middlebrooks at third, coming off a 2012 where his slugging surged and he cemented his spot on the big club in the short term, he is also coming off a hand injury. Hand injuries tend to linger so my expectations for him are rather tepid. Still, there are not a lot of immediately available options and he’ll likely be his own best replacement.

At short, Stephen Drew is here on a one year make-good contract, and I don’t think there is a person in baseball who thinks he’s here longer than that. He’s trying to make good from two relatively sub par seasons that his supporters will suggest is due to injury. If they’re right, he’s going to be more than adequate. If they’re wrong, it just hastens the day when we’ll see Iglesias or Bogaerts.

2013 Red Sox Preview: Rotation

Like almost everything else with the Red Sox, the projections for the rotation have a rather high degree of variance. The upside is a very solid rotation. Not the best in baseball by any stretch, but one that can throw a decent pitcher out there every day. The downside is, well, ugly.

Jon Lester: If there is to be an ace on this team, it is almost certainly going to be Jon Lester. Prior to 2013 he’d had four consecutive seasons of an ERA lower than 3.50 with about a strikeout per inning. Thing is, the strikeouts have been going down and 2013 saw a rise in hit rates and homer rates. It stands to reason that his 2013 is likely to be more like 2010-2011 than it is 2013 but that’s only true if there’s nothing we don’t know about. The drop in velocity and overall performance could be a simple mechanical flaw that will be corrected with judicious application of video review and work with the guy who was his pitching coach during his best seasons.

Clay Buchholz: He had a miserable April and May, then an outstanding June and July before a good August and a poor September. It’s precisely the kind of thing one would expect from someone coming back from a major injury then pitching more innings than ever, and a hundred more than the year before. Of course, that’s precisely what Clay Buchholz did, and while that suggests that his 2013 will more closely resemble the healthy Buchholz, the fact remains that he is entering his age 28 season and has never pitched 200 innings.

Felix Doubront: He pitched like a rookie. Very well at times, a lot less well at times. If he makes the adjustments one expects of a second year pitcher, he can be a better than average pitcher.

John Lackey: He’s the enigma. He was once an excellent pitcher, came to the Boston and turned in a mediocre season followed by an execrable one and Tommy John surgery that cost him his third. One would imagine the injury woes contributed mightily to his poor seasons and that should have been corrected by the surgery. That said, he is entering his age 34 season. I get the sense that Red Sox fans are expecting very little from Lackey. My gut tells me he’ll be quite a bit better than that. Sometimes my gut is an idiot.

Ryan Dempster: He’s thoroughly mediocre. His job is to make it possible for the Sox to bring Rubby de la Rosa along a bit more slowly without being terrible. He’ll probably do that.

The depth comes from Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster. De la Rosa has been a highly regarded prospect and one of the teams organizational goals for the season has to be to work him into the rotation. While the Dempster acquisition means they don’t have to rush him, it shouldn’t be allowed to stand in his way.

Sox Announce Non-Roster Invitees: Bryce Brentz Shoots Himself In Leg (not dead)

Sox Announce Non-Roster Invitees: Bryce Brentz Shoots Himself In Leg (not dead)

With all due respect to the headline writers at MLB.com, I don’t the headline here is Bogaerts and Bradley. Sure, they were expected, and Marrero wasn’t, really, but so much of what this team is going to be in the next five years rides on the shoulders of Bogaerts and Bradley it’s not even funny.

It should also be mentioned that Bogaerts is going to be with Dutch team in the World Basball Classic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to catch as many of those games as I can.

And yes, Bryce Brentz shot himself in the leg, not too seriously, when he was cleaning a gun. I’m not really a gun person, but I was under the impression that it was standard operating procedure to A) unload a gun when you’re done with whatever you need it loaded for, and B) make sure it’s unloaded before you try to clean it.

2013 Red Sox Preview: Outfield

The Red Sox are a team in transition and I don’t think there is any portion of the team that is more emblematic of that fact than the outfield.

The Red Sox have six outfielders on the 40-man roster, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Alex Hassan, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino.

It’s not even hard to imagine a scenario where none of them are on the 40-man this time next year. It’s unlikely, just because it requires both Gomes and Victorino to be traded in the middle of contracts, but they’re the kind of guys who come and go. Hassan and Nava are just guys. They have their strengths and weaknesses but their strengths include the fact that they’re cheap, so you don’t have to worry about getting too much from them. Kalish has one option left, and he’s going to miss much of the season, so he’s going to enter next offseason as a guy with no option, and, seemingly, no ability to stay healthy.

And Ellsbury, of course, is expected to leave as a free agent.

That said, I think the Sox have done a decent job at maximizing their options for the 2013 season.

It starts with Jacoby Ellsbury. Two of his last three seasons have been absolute disasters and in the third, he finished second in the MVP voting. I have no idea what the Sox are going to get from him in 2013. If he’s healthy, he will likely be a player who has a lot of value at the trade deadline. Of course, that also means he’ll have a lot of value on the field at the trade deadline and the team will have to make a decision.

The Sox can make that decision on the merits of the season and whatever trade offers there might be, because Shane Victorino can play center just fine, especially when you consider that if the Sox are playing him there, Ellsbury is playing elsewhere, and the Sox chances of being competitive are significantly lower.

And, the Sox can make the decision on the merits because Jackie Bradley, Jr. looks like he could handle the major leagues now on defense, and isn’t that far away at the plate. Everyone’s expectation is that Ellsbury leaves as a free agent and Bradley takes over in 2014. Again, the presence of Victorino means they wouldn’t have to rush Bradley if he’s not ready at the start of 2014.

I’m convinced that this flexibility was a huge factor in the Sox signing Victorino in the first place.

For now, at least, Shane Victorino is the right fielder and he’ll probably do just fine. The lowest his OPS+ has been in his career is 91 and it looks like a hand injury is the only reason it hasn’t been over 100 for five straight years. He says it isn’t a problem, and if he is correct, I would expect him to be a solid contributor. That said, hand injuries can sometimes linger.

As it stands now, left field will be patrolled by some combination of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava. Neither of them is anything special, but in a straight platoon, they could be very effective, as Nava sported a .797 OPS (OBP heavy) against right handed pitchers in 2012, while Gomes has an .894 OPS and .382 OPB against lefties in his career. For a team that struggled so much to simply get on base last season, a high OBP platoon from left, while not ideal, is a pretty decent plan C.

The bench will presumably include the off side of the platoon plus Ryan Sweeney, who isn’t much offensively, but can play a decent center.

The prospects for the future are intriguing.

It starts, of course, with Jackie Bradley, Jr. about whom, I have yet to see a report that doesn’t leave me drooling to see him in CF as soon as possible. What I read suggests that he is going to be an excellent all around defender with a strong arm and a bat that profiles as a leadoff hitter.

I don’t know what to think about Ryan Kalish. He has talent, but he can’t seem to stay on the field long enough to let it show. He’s going to miss most of 2013 so there is simply no way the Sox can go into 2014 with any expectation that he’ll be more than a part time contributor. Since he’s out of options after 2013, he’ll have to either make the roster or be exposed to other teams. I rather suspect that if he doesn’t make the roster, exposing him to other teams won’t be a worry.

Bryce Brentz is a guy who never seems to rank all that high as a prospect, based on the fact that he has some work to do at the plate, especially in regards to discipline. And yet, no matter where he goes, he seems to perform pretty well. Not excellently, mind you, but pretty well. If he has another .800+ OPS season, this time at AAA, it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t come to camp in 2014 with a decent chance to make the big league team.

In an ideal world, Brentz would make some improvement at the plate, Kalish would finish 2013 strong, Bradley would continue to impress, and the Sox would come into 2014 looking for a way to fit them all onto the roster with Shane Victorino.

2013 Red Sox Preview: Bullpen

The 2013 Red Sox look to be a fairly mediocre team overall. They’re likely to end up in the tail end of the Wild Card chase mostly because there are two wild cards and you have to be really terrible not to be within striking distance with a month or so left.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at the various parts of the team and I’m starting with the bullpen because it’s the one part that really has the chance to be a difference maker.

I’m going to assume it’s a seven man ‘pen because that’s just the way things go these days.

  • Andrew Bailey is returning from a lost season. He only pitched fifteen and a third innings and didn’t pitch them particularly well, allowing twenty-nine baserunners and twelve runs. Still, the questions about him have always been about his durability and never about his ability. 2013 included, he has allowed just over one baserunner per inning and just under a strikeout an inning. If healthy, he is a quality arm for the end of the bullpen.
  • The acquisition of Joel Hanrahan was a bit puzzling. He’s been in short relief for years and generally done well. He averages over a strikeout per inning, and though he has a tendency to walk a few too many, he has generally been a good but not great short reliever.
  • Koji Uehara has been an excellent short reliever everywhere he’s been, and there’s no real reason to suspect that will change.
  • Junichi Tazawa was utterly brilliant in 2012, allowing less than a baserunner per inning, and striking out more than one per inning while allowing very few walks and homers.

 

The four of them figure to be the core of the bullpen. It has been suggested that Tazawa has options remaining and thus isn’t a lock to be in the bigs on Opening Day but that would be a travesty. He has the potential to be a dominant short reliever for the Red Sox for the better part of the next decade and his time should start now.

The very fact that there are four of them is encouraging. Whatever downside there is to injury and the simple volatility inherent in bullpen performance, there are four guys who can reasonably be relied upon to get outs in the eighth and ninth. If they’re all healthy and as effective as their track records indicate, the Sox are going to have an absolutely brilliant back of the bullpen with high performance and deep depth.

That suggests a question about the Hanrahan trade. With the Sox already having three good short relievers, why trade for another?

Some take it to mean that the team has soured on Andrew Bailey. He did, after all, only pitch fifteen innings last season. I think that’s silly. It was, after all, just fifteen innings and his reputation for being injury prone preceded him.

Could that reputation for injury have prompted the trade for Hanrahan purely for depth? Perhaps.

I suspect the reality is that the front office knows the overall team is fairly mediocre, and that if one looks at overachieving teams of recent vintage, it seems a surprising number of them had excellent bullpens. An excellent bullpen certainly doesn’t guarantee that a team will exceed their Pythagorean expectation or win an absurd number of close games but it is a trait common to teams that have exceeded the non mathematical projections of the collected punditry.

It should also be noted that there is always a market for short relievers at the trade deadline and if the Sox do fall flat, it is entirely likely that trading away Hanrahan, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, would bring back prospects the Sox value higher than Jerry Sands, Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan DeJesus.

Daniel Bard is a bit of a mystery. A return to form would give the Sox a bullpen to drool over with five guys who can do it on any given night, virtually guaranteeing that at least two of them will be available for every single game. That said, I’m not sure we can really put any reasonable estimate on the likelihood of that return to form.

From a distance, it looked like Bard was simply unable to repeat his delivery a hundred times, leading to fatigue and less than stellar performance. At least, that’s what it looked like early in the season. Bard rather quickly morphed into someone who simply had no confidence in his ability to throw a pitch of any kind with anything resembling accuracy.

The Sox insist there was no injury as such, but Bard has given up thoughts of starting. He’s been reunited with the man who was the pitching coach during his first two, very successful, seasons in the majors. Can he get back there? I just don’t know.

The answer to that question may well be the biggest factor in the composition of the bullpen come opening day.

Without Bard, the rest of the bullpen would seem to be pretty well set:

  • Alfredo Aceves had a terrible season as a closer, which was predicted by, well, almost everyone. He’s never been the kind of shut down reliever a team wants in close and late situations. He has been, however, extremely effective as a long reliever/swing man, able to pitch two or three innings multiple times a week and make spot starts with a decent chance to go five decent innings. If there’s no roster crunch, it’s hard to see Aceves not get that role.
  • Franklin Morales can also perform in that role and has the added advantage of being lefthanded in a bullpen that so far doesn’t have anyone of that stripe.
  • Andrew Miller seems to have finally found a role in which he can be successful. In his seventh year in the majors he finally broke through and managed to be not terrible in 2012. He was death to lefthanded batters, holding them to a .248 on-base percentage, and a .429 OPS.
  • Craig Breslow allowed more walks and fewer hits (to lefties) than Miller, leading to a similar (.246) OBP and higher (.597) OPS.

 

One rather suspects that were Bard to flame out, the bullpen would consist of Bailey, Hanrahan, Uehara, Tazawa, Aceves, Morales, and Breslow. Breslow gets the nod over Miller for two reasons, control (Breslow walked 22 in 261 plate appearances while Miller walked 20 in 169) and effectiveness against right handers. Miller was dismal (.829 OPS in limited duty) while Breslow was quite effective (.683 OPS in 145 PA.)

Miller would no doubt surface somewhere as lefty specialists never die.

The question, then, is Bard. If he is back to his previous stature–and I would suspect that will be clear by the end of Spring Training–it’s impossible to imagine he doesn’t come north with the big club. That would likely send Aceves packing based almost entirely on the benefit of having a second lefty.

And, as always, it’s entirely possible, even probable, that someone will get injured before Opening Day making all speculation moot.