Links 9-26-2011: Ellsbury’s power surge, Papelbon’s heater and Lackey at Fenway

In winning game 2 of the doubleheader with New York, Jacoby Ellsbury hit his 31st home run yesterday. Needless to say, I and everyone else have been flabbergasted by his power surge in 2011. Baseball Analytics takes an interesting look at how he has been doing it, and in addition to pulling just about everything down the line, their heat maps tell the story that he has just been punishing thigh-high fastballs from righties. His month-to-month SLG and average HR distance has been increasing all year long, so this could be a real change in what to expect from Ells going forward; I’d guess that he goes from being a 10 HR guy to maybe a 18-22 HR guy.

Jonathan Papelbon has had a real renaissance of a season, which has really rescued this overtaxed bullpen and helped it remain as one of the most productive in the AL. Baseball Analytics shows that he’s been using that high heat very effectively this year. The velocity is not changed much from previous years, but I think he’s setting up the pitch much better by mixing in his other pitches. He’s been locating the four-seamer more inside to lefties, and that’s helped.

Bill Petti points out that John Lackey has been especially horrific at Fenway Park this year, where 12 of the 20 HRs hit against him have come. If you believe in mapping ball landing spots onto another stadium, he suggests that as many as 7 of those taters might not have been taters at Anaheim Stadium. Lackey’s FIP would then be a much more respectable 4.18 on the year. FIP is a linear approximation, so it tends to underestimate at the low and high ends of the ERA spectrum anyway, but certainly, we have to be concerned about Lackey as a hittable fly-ball pitcher at Fenway. Those guys typically have to balance those extra homers with more Ks and fewer walks if they want to be successful.

9-22-2011 Link: A defense of Theo Epstein

For all of you who are laying the blame for our September meltdown squarely at Theo Epstein’s feet: Brian MacPherson of the ProJo points out that the injuries we’ve sustained to the rotation this year would have been devastating for any club. The fact that we’re still the favorites for the wild card is pretty impressive.

I’m not saying that Epstein is free from blame, not at all. But who could have foreseen the loss/implosion of 60% of our starting five? In my opinion, going into the season with Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, and Felix Doubront as depth starters was not unreasonable. They went out and got Kevin Millwood and Erik Bedard, but I think the front office could have done more to shore up the rotation, once they realized how bleak the situation was getting to be.

And don’t forget the devastating losses of Rich Hill and Bobby Jenks too. This bullpen went from being a real strength to a weakness pretty quickly with the loss of these two. Matt Albers and Daniel Bard are getting overexposed because they haven’t been there, and Dan Wheeler hasn’t been effective.

9-8-2011: Pitching prospect projections

And now for the pitchers in our stable:

Felix Doubront, SP (99.1 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 4.51 ERA)

Doubront has a really live fastball, but his command and secondary offerings could use some polish. While he was healthy early on, this 23-year old showed the ability to really pitch well at Triple-A, so he’s likely ready for the next challenge. I think there’s still a chance he can stick as a back-end starter, but it seems as if the Sox like him in relief, so we’ll see what happens.

Alex Wilson, SP (105.4 IP, 3.4 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 4.59 ERA)

If Doubront is the most ready, I think Wilson may have the most potential of this group as a starting pitcher. A big guy who throws a good sinking fastball, Wilson could come up here and contribute next season. If he can continue to grow as a pitcher and be consistent, we’ll see him up here in mid- to late-2012.

Kyle Weiland, SP (124.3 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, 4.64 ERA)

Weiland had a great 2011, but the 24-year old  hasn’t really shown enough to really be a good pitcher at this level. Given his track record and age, it’s likely we are looking at a swingman-type player.

In addition to these three, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves are still vying for a starting role next season. The depth we have at this position means that we will likely get one or two of these guys to pitch well enough to replace Tim Wakefield when he retires (whether it’s this offseason or next year sometime).

Michael Bowden seems to have successfully made the transition to reliever, and I think he could see some significant time in our bullpen next season. And don’t forget we still have Junichi Tazawa at Pawtucket as well, though heaven only knows what we’ll see from him at this point.

8-10-2011: Bedard, Aviles and Fields

I’ve been away on vacation, so I just found out a few days ago about the deadline deals that were made. I was very pleased to see that we landed a starter with potential as well as a right-handed hitter off the bench.

SP Erik Bedard and OF Josh Fields for C Tim Federowicz, SP Stephen Fife, RP Juan Rodriguez, and Chih-Hsien Chiang

As I mentioned before, I thought the rotation was the area we needed to improve the most. It would have been ideal to land a quality pitcher without recurrent health issues, but those guys are simply not available unless you trade the farm for them. I was glad to see that we didn’t send any real top-tier talent anywhere in this deal. Other than that, Bedard is almost the ideal acquisition – an established (but not too old) AL pitcher who’s pitched extensively in the AL East, and he is a middle rotation guy who is capable of being much better than that at times. His contract is expiring, so the Sox have the option of re-signing him or possibly getting draft picks when he leaves. The only other thing he lacks besides health is playoff experience.

Josh Fields’ primary function is basically right-handed pop off the bench. He is also a warm body you can stick in the outfield corners. He provides some depth in case something happens to Darnell McDonald.

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7-18-2011: What to look for at the deadline

The Red Sox are in first place and seem to be a lock for the playoffs. That part is great. And despite the struggles of J.D. Drew, our offense is the best in baseball right now. I don’t see acquiring a big bat to be the priority right now. However, we are facing some major instability in the rotation and other areas, which could require some smaller moves to be made. Looking over our current situation, I’d recommend three moves by this year’s trade deadline. Here they are, in order of importance.

Trade for a 4th or 5th starter. Importance: Medium

Jon Lester and Josh Beckett seem to be on track for now, and John Lackey has shown some signs of improvement, but there is still no timetable for Clay Buchholz to return to the rotation. Andrew Miller has been a pleasant surprise, but we don’t know how long he can keep it up, and Tim Wakefield, who hasn’t gone over 140 IP in a year since 2008, is already at 81.2 IP. Should Buchholz not be able to return, or Miller lose it, or Wake’s body break down, I really don’t want two months of Kevin Millwood up here. He’s fine for a few starts, but that’s it.

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6-21-2011: A quick note about Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller was pretty good last night. Apart from a costly mistake to Orlando Hudson, he threw the ball quite well for a depth starter. The big youngster has all the talent in the world, but has struggled with mechanics and confidence issues. His PITCHf/x data is not up yet on FanGraphs, so we have to rely on observations for now.

Miller took it into the 6th inning and was able to go out there and stick to his delivery for the most part; Terry Francona noted that even when he slipped out of his normal motion, he was able to correct himself and avoid extended wildness. Maybe the biggest encouragement was his fastball velocity, which had declined in previous years, but was sitting at 93-94 mph last night.

Peter Gammons said that the Yankees, among other clubs, were trying to get Miller to opt out on June 15, but failed when the Sox called on him this week. Miller might be one of those reclamation projects that pays some dividends. With Daisuke Matsuzaka lost for the season, that would be a welcome development.

6-9-2011: Injuries piling on

I’m feeling pretty good about our Sox right now, as they continue to show how faulty the Yankee rotation is. That being said, there are a number of problems developing on the injury front…

The Dice-K Drama

Daisuke Matsuzaka will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery next week. While many are suggesting that this is the end of his tenure in Boston, he’s still got one year left, and with the speed of recovery these days after TJ, I think we could see him come back for one more go-round. Okay, given the number of headaches Daisuke has given the Red Sox and the amount of time lost to injury, we can safely say that this signing was a failure. Matsuzaka did not live up to the hype or the contract, though he did provide some decent value when he was healthy.

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