Category Archives: Baseball
Hey have you heard that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim which is on the West Coast of the United States in North America are 9-15 and in last place in the AL West? Who could have seen this coming for everyone’s favorite World Series pick? Well, no sane observer of baseball would have picked the Angels to finish in last place (they won’t), but I was among the few to predict that they wouldn’t make the playoffs. So while it’s still really early, allow me a moment to gloat, and explain why things aren’t going to get any better in Orange County.
1. The Angels lineup is atrocious
Ok, Albert Pujols will likely hit a homer at some point, and he definitely won’t post a Chone Figgins-esque .547 OPS for the rest of the season. Still, there are a few reasons to believe that Pujols may never again be the same caliber player he was with the Cardinals. The first factor is his age. Pujols is listed as 32 years old — which the history of Dominican imports suggests is a sketchy figure to begin with (my guess is he’s closer to 34) — which means that for all intents and purposes, his prime as a player is over. A normal aging curve wouldn’t have Pujols dropping off the cliff he has this year, but it wouldn’t have him getting better either. Add to that the fact that Pujols is moving to the tougher league and from a hitters park in St. Louis to a more pitcher friendly environment in Anaheim and the days of Albert Pujols, superstar may be at an end. I don’t put much stock into psychological factors, because I can’t read players’ minds, but the sniping between Pujols, his teammates, and hitting coach isn’t encouraging either.
As for the rest of the Angels lineup, it’s pretty bad. Mark Trumbo has made significant strides in his approach this year and is actually a productive hitter now, but he doesn’t have a position because he was pretty awful at third base and the Angels already have four outfielders. Kendrys Morales was once a beast, but he’s missed two full seasons after a horrific leg injury so it’s going to take some time for him to be productive again if he ever is. Howie Kendrick is an abover average second baseman, but he doesn’t take walks. Chris Ianetta is an above average offensive catcher, but I’m not sure Mike Sciosca (he of the Jeff Mathis man crush) really appreciates his skill set (drawing walks). As for the rest of the everyday players, they range from average regulars (Alberto Callaspo) to aging, below average former stars (Torii Hunter) to negative value guys who really shouldn’t be playing anymore (Vernon Wells). Calling up Mike Trout is a step in the right direction, but counting on a guy who can’t legally buy alcohol to carry your lineup isn’t a recipe for success.
2. The Angels bullpen is pretty bad too
Former GM Tony Reagins gave set-up man Scott Downs a three year contract last winter. Even though giving relievers contracts longer than two years is generally a bad idea, Downs has probably been the lone bright spot in the Angels bullpen this season. That said, his K rate is way down (very small sample) and he’s got a 100% strand rate and .200 BABIP against, so he might be due for some regression. The rest of the bullpen has been atrocious (ERA in the 5s), not Red Sox bad, but still pretty bad. And unlike the Red Sox, the Angels don’t have the offense to simply bludgeon inferior opponents into submission.
3. The Competition is stiff
Coming into the season there were six teams (Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays) considered legitimate contenders for the two AL wild card spots. Two of those teams will win the AL West and East. Assuming that the Rangers have the West wrapped — again it’s early, but Texas is clearly better than Anaheim by any objective measure — the Angels still have to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Jays for two spots. All of those teams look better than the Angels. The Yankees rotation is a concern, but they can still thump. The Red Sox rotation actually looks pretty good now (Clay Buchholz as your worst starter is a good problem to have) and although their bullpen could be historically awful, it can really only get better, especially if Mark Melancon’s recent AAA success carries back over to the majors and Andrew Bailey returns in form, also the Sox, unlike the Angels, can score runs. Losing Evan Longoria is huge for the Rays, but they have the depth, and pitching, to survive. The Jays are due for some regression from their pitching — Henderson Alvarez is only striking out 2.5 per nine, making his 3.56 ERA a bit shaky — but their lineup is also good. Furthermore, all these teams are dealing with some serious injuries and therefore can look forward to improvements as they get players back. The Angels for all their underachieving have been the model of health, so no such luck there.
It’s not all bad for the Angels, in fact there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can be a contender. You just might want to revise those World Series prediction.
P.S. For what it’s worth, my World Series pick, the Diamondbacks, are four games out of first and look perfectly mediocre.
Oh, for it to be March again, back when there was unlimited potential for the baseball season. Instead it’s late April, and for the third straight year, the Boston Red Sox are off to a horrendous start. In case you’re looking for a silver lining, there doesn’t appear to be one. After the last two poor Aprils the Red Sox missed the playoffs. Still, simply noting that bad Aprils lead to missed playoffs is probably too simplistic a reading of the 2012 Red Sox. After all, the 2011 version of the Red Sox would have made the playoffs easily if not for an historically awful September. In fact, while there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged about this year’s team, there’s also plenty of reasons to see potential improvement.
Let’s start with the bad, since it’s much more apparent. First off, the Red Sox pitching has been abysmal. They’ve allowed 100 runs on the season already, nine more than the next worse pitching staff, the Minnesota Twins. It’s hard to pinpoint one problem for the Sox pitching staff that can be easily fixed since everyone has been either terrible, or at best inconsistent. There have been some calls to return set-up-man turned starter Daniel Bard to the ‘pen — and they probably got louder after Bard came in to last night’s game against the Twins and stopped the go-ahead run from scoring from third base — but for reasons I’ll explain later, that would be a mistake.
The second major problem for the Red Sox has been injuries to their outfield. Against the Twins last night, the Sox started (from Left to Right) Cody Ross, Marlon Byrd, and Ryan Sweeney. Prior to the season, Ross and Sweeney were expected to form a platoon in right field with Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carl Crawford in left. While Sweeney has been hitting very well and Ross was Monday’s hero with two home runs to tie the game and put the Sox ahead, the current outfield is a significant downgrade — defensively if nothing else — from what Boston expected to have in the offseason. You’ll note that I haven’t listed Bobby Valentine among the Red Sox problems. That’s because with how bad the pitching has been, I don’t see how Bobby V really could have made a difference either way. It isn’t as if the Red Sox have been losing a ton of very close games.
These problems aside, there are reasons for Red Sox fans to be hopeful. First, the pitching staff won’t remain this bad. Some of the pitchers — Matt Albers comes to mind — are probably past their usefulness, however, others have been victims of bad luck and small sample sizes. Alfredo Aceves may not morph into Jonathan Papelbon, but he’s not going to carry a 24.00 ERA for the rest of the season either. At the same time, the Sox have gotten much more out of the back end of their rotation than they could have imagined. Felix Doubront is striking out 11.25 batters per nine and Daniel Bard has a 9.49 K/9 mark and a 3.25 FIP. Bard may be struggling a little with walks, but simple arithmetic shows that moving him to the bullpen would be wasteful — turning 150 or more innings at that FIP into 75 or so is dumb.
A second reason for hope is that the Sox outfield should be improved over last year’s model once Crawford and Ellsbury return in the next two months. Sweeney has a 1.051 OPS so far on the season and is mashing righties to a 1.206 OPS. Meanwhile Ross has a .973 OPS himself (1.1015 against lefties). Even with a normalization in stats, the Sox’s right field platoon should be an upgrade over what JD Drew and Josh Reddick provided in 2011.
Finally, the schedule is about to get much easier for the Red Sox. They started the season with series @ Detroit, @ Toronto, vs. Tampa, vs. Texas, and vs. New York. All of those teams should be playoff contenders in 2012 and facing them all in a row would be a tough task for anyone, let alone a team with as many outside distractions as Boston. Contrast that with the next few series that the Sox play: @ Minnesota, @ Chicago, vs. Oakland, vs. Baltimore, @ Kansas City, vs. Cleveland, vs. Seattle. With that run of cupcakes, it’s not out of the question that the Sox could be in first place by the time they face of against the Rays on May 15th. If you think that’s irrational, take a look at that schedule one more time.
So what can the Red Sox do to ensure that they’re sitting pretty in May? I have a couple suggestions:
1. Stand Pat
Bobby Valentine was probably right when he called Saturday’s loss to the Yankees “rock bottom.” It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse. I’ve already outlined the reasons why I think moving Daniel Bard to the bullpen would be a mistake, but the Red Sox do have a pitching dilemma of sorts. Veteran starter Aaron Cook has a 1.33 ERA in AAA and can opt out of his contract in May. Cook is a former all-star and losing him for nothing would hurt, but simply giving him a rotation spot isn’t without significant risk. He’s been pretty bad the last two years, and he’s currently walking more hitters than he’s striking out in the minors, which is a major red flag. Still, the Red Sox run the risk of Bard and Doubront wearing down as the season progresses, so here’s what I propose: a six-man rotation. It’s not something often seen, but given that Bard and Doubront haven’t had a full season starting in the majors yet, and that Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz haven’t exactly been durable over the courses of their careers, it makes some sense. If Cook proves ineffective, Boston could move back to the five-man rotation, or try the six-man configuration again once Daisuke Matsuzaka is healthy.
2. Trade Kevin Youkilis
Bobby Valentine made an unforced error by talking about Youkilis on the radio, but there’s a kernel of truth to his statements. I don’t know about Youk’s desire to play, but his effectiveness as both a hitter and a fielder has diminished significantly. Meanwhile, heir apparent Will Middlebrooks is slugging .757, with eight homers in AAA including a recent stretch where he went deep in four straight games. Middlebrooks would offer an immediate defensive upgrade over Youkilis and he has little left to prove in the minors. Youkilis’ value is likely at an all-time low, and there aren’t a ton of obvious trade partners, but the Sox do have the flexibility of pitching him as both a first baseman and a third baseman. Perhaps the Dodgers, with their surprising early season run and gaping holes at both third and first would be willing to take a look? The best case scenario would involve Youkilis’ bat waking up a little to make him more attractive, but it’s pretty clear that his days as the Red Sox third baseman are numbered.
This April has been a tough pill to swallow for Red Sox fans, but it’s still too early to panic, especially when there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
A group led by Guggenheim Partners (private equity) CEO Mark Walters and featuring Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers for $2 billion this morning. You read that correctly, $2 billion. If that seems like a lot for a sports team, especially one in as dire straits as the Dodgers — whose owner is bankrupt, has been running through bridge financing like pez, and spent last summer fighting with baseball over his TV contract — it’s because it is
The price would shatter the mark for a sports franchise. Stephen Ross paid $1.1 billion for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2009, and in England, Malcolm Glazer and his family took over the Manchester United soccer club in 2005 in a deal then valued at $1.47 billion.
Neither of those teams is a great analogue for the sale of the Dodgers. The Dolphins, despite being the most pathetic franchise in the NFL, are still an NFL franchise, which ensures them consistent profitability. Manchester United is an international sports behemoth, a mothership — if you will allow me a stretched analogy — that sucks money from all the feeble minded people who want to seem urbane by feigning a love for soccer, but don’t want to actually watch the sport. The Dodgers are a team in LA, which means people wear their hats and show up for four innings of their games.
But wait you say, Los Angeles is a large market, and the Dodgers are still beloved by many, and inflation! that has to be part of it right? Well sure, how’s this for a comp:
The current record for a baseball franchise is the $845 million paid by the Ricketts family for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.
The Cubs and the Dodgers are pretty similar actually — big market team, bankrupt owner, recent (or longer) history of semi-competence, cash cow stadium, strong fanbase — I don’t see how two years make the Dodgers worth twice as much. In case you’re wondering, core inflation has been more or less flat since 2009 and inflation would be a weak explanation anyways. Additionally, the Dodgers don’t have a structure in place like the Red Sox and Yankees who own and operate their own regional sports networks, significantly enhancing their values considerably. In fact, the Wilpons — who own the Mets and their network SNY — should probably consider selling right away, who knows they could make $4 billion or something.
As for the aforementioned broke owner, Frank McCourt, he’s making out like a bandit.
McCourt paid $430 million in 2004 to buy the team, Dodger Stadium and 250 acres of land that includes the parking lots, from the Fox division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., a sale that left the team with about $50 million in cash at the time. The team’s debt stood at $579 million as of January, according to a court filing, so McCourt stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars even after a $131 million divorce payment to former wife Jamie, taxes, and legal and banking fees.
McCourt bought the team after failing in his bid for his hometown Red Sox (he made his bones building parking structures in Boston). What the article failed to mention was that $579MM in debt exists largely because McCourt spent much of his ownership tenure treating the Dodgers like his own personal credit card, which was fine until his wife divorced him for being insane and he had to fight a protracted court battle in an attempt to keep the team along with a good chunk of his wealth. Just goes to show you kids, that if you’re rich, you can buy yourself an expensive bauble, leverage yourself to the teeth, and generally behave like a reprehensible tool, and someone else with a lot of money will come along and make you rich again.
This whole debacle speaks to exactly how opaque the market for Major League teams is. If at the start of the bidding process for the Dodgers you set the final sale price at $2 billion you’d likely be laughed out of the room. Most reasonable commenters would have predicted something around what the Ricketts bought the Cubs for, maybe a little higher. At the same time, MLB allows people like McCourt, Jerry Reinsdorf, the Wilpons, and Jeff Loria (look them all up) to buy and sell teams, but basically forced Jeff Moorad to drop his bid for the Padres (he’s already a minority owner) by giving him the silent treatment. Moorad’s proven to be an effective manager during his years as a minority owner and CEO with Arizona and San Diego, so why wouldn’t baseball want him to be an owner? He’s a former player agent, which is way too unsavory for Bud Selig and his cronies, but I digress.
As for Dodgers fans, they should be happy. Having this type of professional investor as an owner is generally a good thing, at least if the Red Sox are to be used as an analogue. Private equity folks get a bad rap — deservedly so in some cases — but one thing that they do know is how to delegate, which is important when running a baseball team. It’s pretty safe to say that Ned Colletti’s days in Chavez ravine are numbered. In any case, after spending $2 billion to get the team, it would be pretty strange for the new owners to get stingy all of a sudden. Also, Angelenos get to have Magic Johnson as their teams’ owner.
Maybe I’m missing something, still, $2B seems like a lot to pay for the Dodgers, just sayin’.
Update: The consensus seems to be that the sale price is based on the ability to build a YES or NESN style network for the Dodgers, which is a very plausible explanation. I still believe the number is high, but it seems like the new owners really wanted the team.
This is the fifth in a series of posts previewing the upcoming baseball season.
For the last half-decade, the Philadelphia Phillies have been the undisputed class of the NL East. That may change this season. Philadelphia remains the favorite, but Atlanta has been catching up for the past couple years and Miami and Washington have had busy offseasons. I’m not sure if the Mets still play baseball. Here’s how I see things shaking out:
1. Philadelphia Phillies (Projected 2012 record: 93-69)
If this doesn’t seem like a terribly bold prediction, consider that it’s a 10-win drop-off from last season. That’s how good Philadelphia was in 2011. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels still form a formidable front three in the rotation and Vance Worley was surprisingly good last season. That said, don’t be surprised if Halladay and Lee take a step back this season as they turn 35 and 34, respectively. Hamels should be ready to pick up the slack, he’s coming off a 4.9 WAR season and will be a free agent next year. It’s hard to project Worley as he was more effective in 2011 than his minor league numbers suggested he would be, but there isn’t much in the peripherals to suggest a massive correction in his traditional stats. Expect his ERA to rise a little, but he should remain a solid number 4. Joe Blanton is penciled in as the number five starter, but the Phillies are trying to shop him. If they can find a trade, then Kyle Kendrick will move into the rotation, but to be honest there isn’t much difference between the two.
The Phillies may have a wealth of pitching, but their offense is a serious concern. They may have rid themselves of Raul Ibanez’s corpse, but their other players appear to be deteriorating at a disquieting rate. Ryan Howard (more on him later) will miss the first half of the season and the Phils plan to replace him with a Ty Wigginton/John Mayberry/Jim Thome platoon, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that Ty Wigginton sucks, Jim Thome hasn’t played first base in over five years, and John Mayberry was slated to be the team’s left fielder. Throughout Philadelphia’s run of success, Chase Utley has been the team’s best player (he should have won the MVP Awards that went to Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins), but he has degenerative knee and hip conditions and will liekly miss a large chunk of the season. His replacements would be Michael Martinez and Kyle Frandsen, who are just as unappealing as they sound. That leave Rollins — who has been in a visible decline since 2008 — and Placido Polanco on the infield.
Philly is better in the outfield with Shane Victorino (most underrated player in baseball?) in center, Mayberry in left, and Hunter Pence (most overrated?) in right.
Realistically, this may be Philadelphia’s last year to grab that elusive second ring, largely because GM Ruben Amaro has made some pretty high profile blunders. Amaro’s big move this offseason was signing Jonathan Papelbon for 4 years and $50MM, which is way too much money and way too many years for reliever. The Red Sox were able acquire Papelbon’s replacement, Andrew Bailey, without giving up a single top prospect, and the Cincinnati Reds signed former Phillies closer Ryan Madson for 1 year and $8.5MM. Considering that there’s a decent chance that both Bailey and Madson will be better than Papelbon in 2012, the signing looks like a major, unnecessary misstep. It wouldn’t be the first time that Amaro hastily overpaid a free agent before letting the market develop. In April 2010, Amaro gave Ryan Howard a 5-year $125MM extension, while Howard had two years left on his deal. That new contract kicks in this season, with Howard at age 32, on the DL with a torn Achilles. Sure, Amaro couldn’t have foreseen the injury, but consider that the following April, Adrian Gonzalez signed a 7-year $154MM deal with Boston. Gonzalez is three years younger than Howard, and a much better player, yet Boston will be paying him less annually than Philly will be paying Howard. If Amaro had just waited another year he probably could have saved $15MM. That’s not insignificant when you consider that both Boston and New York will be hungry for pitching this offseason, when Hamels hits the market at age 29.
This is the fourth in a series of posts previewing the upcoming baseball season. I’ll be posting twice a week over the next three weeks going West to East across the divisions.
The AL Central is probably the easiest division in baseball to predict. It’s basically the Detroit Tigers and a big steaming pile of mediocrity. Here’s how I see things breaking down:
1. Detroit Tigers (Projected 2012 Record: 93-69)
The Tigers are head and shoulders the best team in the AL Central. They won the division by 15 games last season and the gap has probably widened in the offseason. Still, Detroit is a team with very obvious strengths and weaknesses. One of the Tigers’ strengths is their starting pitching. Justin Verlander is entering his age 29 season and is one of the best pitchers in the game, but a slight regression should be expected. Verlander allowed a .236 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) last season, indicating a fair amount of luck, his xFIP last season was 3.12 which is still very good, but not quite as good as his ERA of 2.40 would make him appear. While Verlander (deservedly) gets most of the attention when it comes to Tigers’ pitchers, the rest of the rotation is quietly good. Doug Fister doesn’t have a great strikeout rate — his 6.07 K/9 in 2011 was a career high — but he makes up for it by walking very few batters (1.54 BB/9 in 2011). Max Scherzer has had some trouble staying healthy in the past, but his 2011 xFIP of 3.70 marks him as a very good number 3. Rick Porcello may never reach the lofty ceiling set for him after a very successful minor league career, but it’s easy to forget that he’s just 23. Porcello gets a lot of ground balls and doesn’t walk many batters, but in order to be better than a 3 or 4 he’s going to need to manage better than 5 strikeouts per nine. Top pitching prospect Jacob Turner could probably use some more time in the minors, but the Tigers have never been shy about pushing their prospects so Turner will likely begin the season as Detroits number 5 starter with Andy Oliver waiting in AAA should anyone get hurt or prove ineffective.
Detroit’s other major strength is the core of its lineup. Even with DH Victor Martinez out for the year, the Tigers should get above average or better production at first base, shortstop, third base, and catcher. The problem is that all that hitting comes at the expense of defense. The Tigers seem intent to play Miguel Cabrera at 3rd base and Prince Fielder at 1st, while DHing Delmon Young, but the Tigers might be better off moving one of Fielder or Carbrera to DH and finding a trade for Young. Cabrera hasn’t played third since 2008 and there’s a reason that he was moved off the position. Cabrera hasn’t been particularly good at playing first either, with a career UZR/150 of -2.7. Fielder can’t play any position other than first, and with a career UZR/150 of -6.4, he’s really a DH.
The outfield is another major question for Detroit. Brennan Boesch is a pretty good hitter, but he’s another below average defender in right, which diminishes his value. Austin Jackson is a good fielder in center, but he strikes out in about a quarter of his plate appearances and a .319 OBP isn’t going to cut it from the leadoff spot, especially with Cabrera and Fielder sitting in the middle of the lineup. Still, despite their flaws, the Tigers have a higher talent level, and a more balanced roster than any of their AL Central peers.
On Thursday, Jason Varitek will announce his retirement. Varitek will likely be most remembered for shoving his glove into Alex Rodriguez’ face on July 24, 2004. That moment will forever be enshrined in myth as the moment when the Red Sox began their run to their first World Championship in 86 years. The problem is that like so much else with Varitek’s career, it’s just that, a myth, and that’s a disservice to the man who has been the Red Sox captain for the past six years.
That fight in Yankee Stadium will be remembered as a turning point for the Red Sox. The truth is they continued to scuffle after that game and didn’t really get hot until almost a month later. Varitek will be remembered as a great defensive catcher, the best “game caller” of his generation. The truth is that Varitek’s real calling card was his offense, he was a top-tier offensive catcher in his prime and never better than above average behind the plate. For those of us who loved watching Vartiek play, the mythologizing of him as a defensive whiz should be disturbing, as it will allow critics to chip away at his legacy in the coming years. Game calling is impossible to quantify and there’s some evidence that Varitek wasn’t better than anyone else at it –Clay Buchholz preferred to be caught by Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia; and Jonathan Papelbon seemed to throw an endless stream of fastballs with Varitek behind the plate — and his caught stealing numbers were never great. Far better to shed our misconceptions early and focus on the fact that while he may not have been the God of the Pitch Mix, Varitek was a valuable contributors to two championship teams, including the best Red Sox team of all time (2007).
Another, sadder truth about Varitek’s retirement is that he didn’t want this. Unlike Tim Wakefield who could have provided some value to the Sox (can’t have enough pitching) Varitek had no place on this roster and no other team was willing to offer him a major league deal. The Red Sox already have Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach on their major league roster — superior players on both sides of the ball — and prospect Ryan Lavarnway, who isn’t much of a catcher, but makes up for his shortcomings by carrying a huge stick, waiting in the wings. As for the prospect of another team signing on, Varitek has been on a very obvious decline since the 2007 season. The captain was never a fast-twitch athlete with tremendous bat speed, like Nomar Garciaparra for example, but for the last few years he’s looked as if he were swinging a telephone pole, especially from the left side. It was this declining bat speed that forced him to become a backup, first to Victor Martinez and then to Saltalamacchia. And although Varitek accepted the role with his usual professionalism, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time.
Varitek was acquired, along with Derek Lowe, on July 31, 1997 in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. It will always be remembered as one of the best trades in Red Sox history. Over the next 15 years, Varitek provided us with a number of positive memories, the best of which are the two World Series that the team won with him behind the plate. Thanks captain.
Bobby V Gets Acquainted
Well, Bobby Valentine’s tenure as Red Sox manager is definitely beginning in true Bobby V fashion, with plenty of bombast and controversy. Valentine has some huge shoes to fill as he’s replacing the best manager in Red Sox history (a guy who happens to be a short drive away in Bristol, CT these days) and he’s not being shy about how he plans to go about his business. No one will confuse the animated Valentine with the stoic Terry Francona and perhaps that’s exactly what this team needs, but Valentine needs to be more careful in how he handles the Boston media.
Bobby may be honest when he talks about things like addressing residual clubhouse anger, and it certainly seems genuine when he says things like:
“Exactly what I told you. Saying ‘Forget it is like saying, ‘Relax,’ you know?’ Those words mean nothing,” Valentine said. “It takes breathing, confidence, all those wonderful things to relax. It takes time and apologies, but apologies come with actions. I don’t think you can say, ‘OK, we’re going to have a meeting. We’re turning the page, it’s over.’ No, thank you. I don’t particularly like it.”
There’s plenty of truth to that statement. Still, Valentine should be lying or not saying anything at all. Right now, Valentine has much more slack with the media than the Red Sox players do. However, let’s consider what may happen if the Red Sox being the season 0-6 like they did last year. It’s only a matter of time before someone at the Globe or Herald (even money on Shaughnessy) blames Valentine for airing the team’s dirty laundry in the media. Valentine is known for a couple things: wearing his emotions on his sleeves and getting the most out of his teams (take a look at the 2000 Mets’ roster). One thing that Bobby V isn’t known for is media savvy and he better start learning some quickly.
Banning Beer is Stupid
I know that I’m probably in the minority among Red Sox fans, but I wholeheartedly agree with Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky that the Sox new beer ban is a victory for stupidity. The 2011 Red Sox didn’t collapse because some pitchers were having a beer on days when they didn’t pitch. They collapsed because of a roster with obvious holes and underperformance down the stretch from players such as JD Drew, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and the entire bullpen, none of whom, as far as we know, were partaking in beer or Popeyes. Was the beer and chicken a bad idea? Sure. Did it do against good taste? Definitely. Is it a Red Herring? Absolutely.
A far more interesting storyline to this Red Sox offseason is Theo Epstein’s departure, a move that’s been brewing since 2005 as the relationship between Epstein and team CEO Larry Lucchino has grown more acrimonious (I highly recommend Seth Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster for an inside look at how Sox management works). Another more interesting story would have been new GM Ben Cherington’s uneven first offseason which included smart moves like dealing for Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey to shore up the bullpen and head-scratchers like trading Marco Scutaro for spare parts with no starting shortstop on the roster. Instead we’ve been talking about beer for four months.
And no matter what Bobby Valentine says, Terry Francona is absolutely right, the ban is a PR move and one so transparent that the Red Sox should just admit it.
Tim Wakefield retired on Friday, as the third winningest pitcher in Red Sox history after 17 years with the team. Wakefield won’t be remembered as the greatest pitcher in team history (that honor belongs to Pedro Martinez), but for nearly two decades he’s been the greatest point of continuity for the team as it emerged from the dark days of the late 90’s and early aughts to become a perennial championship contender. For the average fan he will perhaps be best remembered for giving up a series-ending home run to Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS. Red Sox die-hards, however, will recall Wakefield forgoing a Game 4 start by volunteering for mop-up duty in a Game 3 blowout loss to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. That effort, along with Wake’s 3 inning appearance in Game 5, were critical to the Red Sox preserving their pitching staff to complete the greatest comeback in sports history. For that we’ll always be thankful.
The truth is that I’ve always had mixed feelings about Wakefield. He certainly brought a lot to the table, he was an effective innings eater, a respected teammate, and no one ever questioned his guts. However, he also took a lot off; Wakefield retires with a career ERA of 4.41 and a career FIP of 4.71, and Jason Varitek’s inability to catch his knuckleball required the Red Sox to carry deadweight Doug Mirabelli for years as Wake’s personal catcher.
Perhaps what was most unique about Wakefield was that his both his best and worst qualities as a pitcher seemed to be on display in every start. Wakefield could go from striking out two batters in a row to giving up back to back home runs in a span of 10 minutes. Although Red Sox fans have long adored him, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that his starts have always been heartburn inducing.
This is perhaps the point in this retrospective where I should make a hackneyed metaphor comparing Wakefield to the pitch that made him famous, the knuckleball. The truth is that Wake often belied the long-held baseball stereotype of knuckleballers as odd-ball, flighty, personalities. In fact, what made Wakefield so easy to root for was how normal he seemed. Not only did he rely on a throwback pitch, he was a throwback to a time when baseball players weren’t freaks of nature. There’s no doubt that Wakefield was an exceptional athlete, but when compared to preternaturally gifted individuals like Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, Wakefield’s whole existence seemed proof that perhaps Major League Baseball wasn’t so hard to play. In a clubhouse often populated by crazy people (Ramirez, Carl Everett), outsized personalities (Martinez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia) and a town populated by the most neurotic fan base in the nation and a media best described as something just short of despicable — Boston’s two most likable print columnists are Bob Ryan and Tony Massarotti, one of whom (Ryan) once argued that Jason Kidd’s wife deserved to be verbally assaulted for sitting in the Garden stands with her kid and the other (Massarotti) of whom is just slightly less of a bridge troll than Dan Shaughnessy — Wakefield always felt like a breath of fresh air.
Like so much else in his career, Wakefield’s retirement seems somewhat understated for someone who was so much a part of the Red Sox culture for the past 17 years. In many ways, it comes as a surprise, I always thought that Wake could pitch well into his 50s if he wanted. At the same time, like so much else he did, it just seems like the right time, the normal time for him to hang it up.
It’s not exactly news that the people who vote on who gets to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame are a gaggle of hypocritical, self-righteous butt-munchers, who use the vote as a way to pass judgement on the character of former players who they did or didn’t like. Recently, this band of ignoramuses has decided that after years of ignoring steroid use in the major leagues, they are the arbiters of the morals of the game and as such, must keep the Hall of Fame free of potential “cheaters”. Never mind that steroids weren’t banned by baseball during much of what is now referred to as the “steroid era,” that we have no real idea of how much steroids help baseball players because we can’t isolate their effects on offense from other factors such as shrinking ballparks and the commonly held knowledge that the ball has been juiced itself, or that past forms of “cheating” such as amphetamine use have been largely ignored or in some cases glorified by these same writers. What we, the public, are told by our betters in the sportswriting community (many of whom are fully incapable of forming coherent sentences) is that the Hall of Fame must, at all cost be kept steroid-free, and totally forget about the fact that we have little idea exactly who used steroids.
The greatest victim of this self-righteous demagoguery has been former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. On the basis of his play alone, factoring in things like defense and baserunning, Bagwell was one of the two best first baseman of the last 20 years (the other being Albert Pujols who is still playing) and easily one of the ten greatest to ever play the position. His career WAR of 83.9 compares favorably to players like Hank Greenberg, and places him in the same stratosphere with Lou Gehrig, Pujols, and Jimmy Foxx (all better than Bagwell FWIW). On the merits of his career, Bagwell is an absolute no-brainer as a Hall of Fame candidate. Additionally, Bagwell has never been linked to steroids, even circumstantially. He never tested positive and he was never even mentioned in baseball’s infamous Mitchell Report. Yet, Bagwell only appeared on 56% of ballots in his second year of eligibility (after appearing on 42% his first year), well short of the necessary 75% to achieve Hall of Fame status. This is an absolute travesty.
There are two pieces of information generally used to tie Bagwell to steroids. One is that he had big muscles and the other is that his major league numbers far surpassed his minor league totals. Both issues have been addressed by numerous other writers so I won’t go into them here except to point you towards the excellent work done by ESPN’s David Schoenfield and the whole crew at Fangraphs on the subject. The minor league numbers can be explained by the fact that Bagwell was generally young for his level and that many of the parks he played in as a Red Sox farmhand were black holes. Other players who performed comparably to Bagwell in the same parks include Mo Vaughn and Jon Valentin, neither of whom were as good as Bagwell, but did hit for power once they reached Fenway.
As for Bagwell’s muscles, any tenth grader can tell you that correlation does not imply causation. Absent some kind of proof that Bagwell absolutely did use steroids (like a positive test) comparing what he looked like in his 30s to his minor league rookie card is a fool’s argument. There is no doubt that the major league Bagwell was a much more muscular man than the 19 year old minor league Bagwell. That said, taking that to mean that Bagwell used steroids is not only idiotic, it’s borderline slanderous. Was Bagwell muscular? Yes. Could he have obtained that type of musculature through a rigorous workout regimen and a specialized diet absent the use of steroids? Absolutely.
Voters who leave Jeff Bagwell off their ballots in the name of keeping the Hall of Fame “clean” — conveniently ignoring the racists, drug addicts and all around terrible human beings already enshrined or the fact that someone who may have used steroids may already be in — are either dumber than high school students or the worst kind of self-righteous twats imaginable. Are these really the type of people we want deciding who we celebrate? So, why not make Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Fame voter litmus test? If you’re either too dumb or too douchey to vote Bagwell into the Hall of Fame, you really shouldn’t be voting at all.
Here’s your weekend preview, degenerates:
The Rum Diary: An adaptation of the novel Hunter S. Thompson wrote as a 22 year old.
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Uninformed Commentary: Like many other self-styled creative types of my generation I have a huge hard-on for Hunter S. Thompson. I honestly don’t give a f*ck what critics think (SUCK IT H8rs!) . The Rum Diary isn’t so much a great narrative as a great exploration of voice and style in modern writing so I can see why a bunch of stodgy old people reviewing movies (who probably didn’t take the time to read the book) wouldn’t get it. I still think this movie is going to be awesome.
The last time the St. Louis Cardinals appeared in the World Series (2006), it was the lowest rated series of all time. This year, the St. Louis Cardinals are back in the World Series. The result? New lows in people caring about baseball:
Firm numbers for The Rangers vs. Cardinals face-off will be available in a couple hours. For the moment, the question doesn’t appear to be whether Game 1 dropped in the Nielsens compared to 2010, but whether it’s the least-watched Game 1 ever (2006′s Cardinals vs. Detroit is currently the record low). For more on this, see EW story:Is the World Series still worth it for Fox?. We’ll update this post with the numbers as they come in.
Who knew that no one would watch a game featuring two teams from the middle of the country to which people react with something between indifference and outright hate (everyone in the NL Central hates the Cardinals)? The next time someone tells you that professional sports are all fixed, point to this World Series. Argument won. And yes, I’m still bitter about the Red Sox, now get off my lawn.