Roster Roundup: Bullpen Part 1

And we’ve gotten to the point where we have to talk about the bullpen and the thing with that is, well, bullpens are inherently variable. There aren’t many relievers who are consistently good from year to year and it’s not entirely clear how to determine which ones are which so it’s really hard to put together a whole group of pitchers you can trust to be good.

So we’ll start with the guys we can be sure are going to be in the major league bullpen before moving into guys who are being brought in just in case they catch fire.

Koji Uehara: There’s an interesting little factoid about Uehara’s 2013 that always amazes me. He allowed a run in his last appearance of June, then didn’t allow a run in July, August, or September, only to allow a run in his first appearance of October, in Game 3 of the LDS against the Rays.

Of course, this is largely irrelevant to what he’ll do in 2015. Will he still be good in 2015? As long as we’re understanding that “good” doesn’t mean he’s going to be as otherworldly awesome as he was in 2013, then yeah, he’s probably going to be good. He was good in 2014 with the exception of a few weeks at the end of a lost season. The thing is, he’s going to be 40. Here’s the thing about being an athlete at 40. If your performance completely falls off the cliff, it’s not a surprise. There are just so few athletes who are still effective at that age, that guaranteeing good performance is ludicrous.

So yeah, he’s probably going to be good, unlikely to be outstanding, and there’s a non trivial chance that he’s just terrible.

Junichi Tazawa: He’s more than a decade younger than Uehara, but has never reached Uehara’s peak. Still, a solid but unremarkable set up man is nothing to be sneezed at. Tazawa has been that, and there’s no particular reason to believe he’ll be different in 2015 other than the inherent volatility of the position.

Craig Breslow: Breslow is perhaps the Red Sox poster child for the volatility of the position. He was brilliant in 2013, holding all batters to a .635 OPS, and terrible in 2014, allowing an OPS of .887. What are we going to get from him in 2015? No idea, really. He’s had more good years than bad in his career, so I guess that’s more likely than a bad season, but by the same token, he’s 34 and well past his prime. If 2013 turns out to be his last good year, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

Edward Mujica: Mujica gets a bit of a bad rap for his 2014 because it started off so damn crappy. He was terrible in April and May, as well as July, but he was quite good in June, August, and September. Was there something wrong with him? Was it just the volatility of the position? I don’t know, you don’t know. This we do know. 2014 was his worst year since 2009. He’s 30 so he’s not young, but that’s not terribly old either. Chances are, he’s pretty good in 2015.

Brandon Workman: He’s kind of just a guy, you know? He did well as a starter in 2013, and very well as a reliever in the post season, but in 2014 it was just the opposite. Some of that is no doubt due to small sample sizes and being bounced between one role and the other. My guess is that being able to settle in as a reliever on a permanent basis is going to be a good thing for him and allow him to be the very effective reliever he looked like in the 2013 post season.

And I’m going to stop there for now because these are the guys that are highly likely to be in the 2015 bullpen, and the rest of the guys are less likely for various reasons. Also, and perhaps more to the point, these are the five guys who are probably going to determine if the Sox have a good bullpen or a bad one. In the model of six innings from a starter and three from relievers, these are the guys who are going to be getting those three innings when we’re in close games. If they do well, it mean a lot of good things for the Sox starting staff just because they don’t have to be out there trying for seven innings every night.

The first thing that should be pointed out about these guys is that we know their names. There are a lot of teams that don’t know the names of their top 5 guys, so the fact that the Sox do is a non trivial advantage. More than that, they’re all fairly likely to be good. I say that within the context of the whole position being volatile, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if any particular one of these guys mediocre to terrible.

And that’s over 800 words so we’ll take a look at the other candidates next week.

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Roster Roundup: Outfield

As we continue our reassessment of the Red Sox roster, we turn from the infield to the outfield. Unlike the infield, we don’t know who is going to play where. We don’t really even know who the starters are.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Hanley Ramirez is going to start in left field. It’s where he was signed to play. He can’t really be expected to play any of the other outfield positions. And oh yeah, he can hit the snot out of the ball. Aside from an injury that affected his 2011 and 2012, he has always been a much better than average hitter.

And sure, he’s thirty and he’s getting paid a ton of money, but he’s also one of those elite guys who got to the bigs at a very young age and is likely to be effective relatively longer than most.

In short, we don’t have to worry about left field for a while.

We can be pretty sure that Rusney Castillo is going to be starting somewhere. They didn’t pay him 7/70 to sit on the bench. It’s going to be right or center and I rather suspect it’s going to be center, but that depends a bit on who is playing right.

Which brings us to Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts.

My sense is that Shane Victorino is going to have a hard time staying healthy enough to play every day. Maybe that’s wrong. Victorino sure thinks it’s wrong and is coming to camp planning on being the starting right fielder. Good. I want him to think and act like he is going to go out and kick the shit out of everything.

But…he played 30 games in 2014, 53 in 2012, and 101 in 2011. Even in 2013 he only played 122. That looks like a guy whose body is starting to break down and since, when healthy, he still has the skills to be a tremendous asset, I want to take steps to make sure he’s healthy.

That means he’s the bench guy, Betts starts in right, Castillo in center, and Vic gives them each more time off than normal. Betts is still adjusting to the majors. It looks like he played about 150 games in 2014, but that was the first time he played more than 127.

Mostly, I think young guys are going to benefit from more time off, not just because they don’t play 162 in the minors, but because they need to slow the game down a little bit and time off to think should help that.

Also, Castillo hasn’t played a full season since I don’t even know when, and it stands to reason he could use a bit more time off than a normal guy.

I think we could plan on having Castillo and Betts each playing five days a week and Victorino playing four.

If the starters are Betts and Castillo, there’s some notion that Betts should play center and Castillo right because Castillo has the better arm. I think most of this sentiment is coming from the fact that Betts was moved off short because of his arm and I’m not sure it translates that well.

Regardless, if they decide Victorino is going to be the starter, he’ll go in right and Castillo in center with Betts going back to Pawtucket so he can play ever damn day.

And there are the bench options. Allen Craig is likely to be backing up left as well as first. At least, he is unless there is some way he can be slipped through waivers to Pawtucket.

But basically, the backup options other than Victorino are Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. They don’t need all three, and if Brock Holt is on the roster, the chances are decent that they’ll go with just Vic and one of Craig/Nava.

My guess is that the Sox would be best off going with Castillo and Betts with Vic and Craig. Going with Castillo and Vic with Craig and Nava would allow the team to keep more talent in the organization and that’s something they try to do.

Regardless, the team should be getting better than average offensive production from all outfield positions while having some decent depth.

It’s a good thing.

How About Them Red Sox?

The Red Sox entered the 2012-2013 off season in a bit of an interesting situation. Thanks to the Punto trade, the Sox actually fell below the luxury tax limit for 2012, and had a boatload of room under the limit for 2013. They also had several players who could conceivably perform at a near MVP/Cy Young level, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia on the offensive side, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the pitching side.

Of course, with each of them there is also a pretty good chance that they don’t. Ortiz is getting old, Ellsbury has really only had the one great year, Pedroia has had several injuries the past few years, Lester was just terrible last year, and Buchholz has never put up a single season where he was consistently excellent for the whole season.

At the same time, there were utter vacancies in left field, right field, and at first base. Also, the incumbent at short, Jose Iglesias, has yet to prove he can hit at the minimum required level.

I argued at the time that the Sox should pursue a strategy of signing non compensation free agents who are good but not great. The general idea was that if the players mentioned above have good seasons, the Sox could win the World Series, even if the talent brought in is fairly mediocre.

Meanwhile, there is a boatload of talent with some AA experience Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are the headliners but there’s also Bryce Brentz and Allen Webster. In addition, there’s Rubby de la Rosa who should be mixed into the major league roster at some point during 2013.

The goal, then, is to compete as well as possible while not messing up the talent that is almost major league ready.

I think they did a pretty good job of doing that. The largest contract they gave out was for three years and thirty-nine million to Shane Victorino. There’s two ways to look at this. One, getting Victorino provides a potential alternative to Ellsbury in center, which would allow the Sox to trade Ellsbury if he’s having a good season and the team isn’t. On the other hand, should the Sox end up signing Ellsbury in the next off season, Victorino would have 2/26 left, and be an excellent trade candidate to clear some dollars for Ellsbury and the roster spot for Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Other signings include Ryan Dempster for 2/26.5. With Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, and Lackey cemented in the rotation, the idea candidate would be one who could be counted on for enough starts that Rubby de la Rosa didn’t have to be counted on for thirty starts, and should be tradeable enough that he doesn’t block de la Rosa from the 2014 rotation. I think Dempster fits that bill. He’s unlikely to be terrible and he’s unlikely to be excellent. Nobody is going to care if the Sox trade him at the deadline and promote de la Rosa.

Stephen Drew came in on a one year make good deal at short, and that’s fine. I don’t think anyone is ready to hand the job to Iglesias, which was my fear going into the offseason, and it’s clear that Bogaerts isn’t ready for the big club. A year of Drew gets us closer to the Bogaerts era, and that’s a good thing.

Mike Napoli on a one year, incentive laden deal? That’s probably the bargain of the offseason if he stays reasonably healthy. This is a bit of an iffy situation for the Sox as they have no other good options at first. Mauro Gomez can play the position, but not well and the team should be on the lookout for some AAA options there for depth if nothing else.

Jonny Gomes is getting a bit overpaid for his talent level. I rather suspect the Sox are hoping Ryan Kalish takes that position. If not, a Gomes/Nava platoon in left wouldn’t be terrible.

The Sox also brought in David Ross to play catcher, presumably in some sort of rotation with Ryan Lavarnway, which means Jarrod Saltalamacchia will likely find himself a new home sometime soon. One of the problems the Sox have had recently is a lack of the grinder mentality that leads to tough at bats and higher on base percentages. Salty’s value came from his power, and that’s not a bad thing, but the switch to Ross and Lavarnway should mean an increase in on base percentage.

The most interesting deal of the offseason is, I think, the deal for Joel Hanrahan. It’s not terribly interesting in itself. The Sox sent a bunch of mostly fungible parts for something they didn’t need. The Sox were already in pretty good shape at short relief with Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara. The addition of Hanrahan means the Sox should have a really excellent bullpen with these four, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow, and, conceivably, Daniel Bard.

Here’s the marble that’s bouncing around in the back of my brain. Relievers are often traded at the deadline. It is entirely possible that the Sox bought Hanrahan with the express intent of trading him at the deadline, effectively turning Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimental, et al for some real prospects.

It’s also more than conceivable that a simple injury makes room for someone else, or that someone goes in trade with Saltalamacchia for some kind of first base depth.

Greek Godspeed, Kevin Youkilis

Sometimes we don’t like things that are good for us. Vitamins, vaccines, prostate exams, you know the drill.

Thus it is with Youks leaving for Chicago.

It’s probably good for us. Youks is increasingly looking old. He’s not hitting. Worse, for a man who always got on base everywhere he went, he’s not getting on base. His OPS is below .700 and his OBP is .315.

Middlebrooks is younger, healthier, and probably better.

And yet, Youks was one of us. He was ours. We’ve heard about him since he showed up to Lowell and put up an OBP of .512 while walking on average more than once a game.

And he’s one of the 25.  He may have had just two plate appearances in the 2004 post season but he played seventy games at third to help get there.

There are eight players still alive who have twice won the World Series with the Red Sox. Kevin Youkilis is one of them and we love him for it.

This Team Troubles Me

I don’t have much patience for people who tell others that they aren’t fan enough. It seems to me such a pointless exercise to weigh fandom so I say this merely for perspective.

I have watched almost every game this team has played, be it spring training, regular or post season for the past twenty years. I watched the “Where is Roger” game on my honeymoon. I remember Matt Young’s no hitter that wasn’t. I remember Roger Clemens’ first major league hit. If there is a game available for watching, I’m watching it unless there is a compelling reason not to.

And I find this team to be the least compelling team I can remember.

The manager is an ass who seems to make a special point of leaving starters in three batters too long.

The best pitchers seem more capable of demonstrating a remarkably tone deaf indifference to public opinion than they have of getting people out.

Clay Buchholz has been more terrible than John Lackey’s wettest dream.

We should be clear. This team is probably going to end up winning at least 90 games and finishing third at worst and I have less desire to watch them than I had of teams that would have had to make multiple deals with multiple devils to reach 90 wins.