Closing up shop

Well, the time has come. As I am emigrating to another part of the world next month, I’m afraid I have to shutter the doors on Red Sox Talk. If there are any interested parties that would like to keep it going, I’d be happy to hand off the admin rights, otherwise… Thanks very much for reading. Go Sox!

One more thing for Theo to do

Oh yeah, Theo. Could I request one more thing? How about you bring someone in here who can actually hit left-handed pitching besides David Ortiz? What would it take to bring in, say, Eric Byrnes, who is .298/.361/.524 over the past three years against left-handed pitching? I think he plays defense pretty good, too.

Offseason laundry list

Okay, with the 2006 playoffs fading off in the distance, I’ve got some things I’d like to see done this offseason (not that my voice counts).

1) Fix the rotation. As it stands, next year’s starters look like this: Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield and… and… yeah, you get the idea. Until we know something more, we can not count on Jon Lester for 2007. I’ve heard that it may take two years to treat his melanoma. I don’t know how realistic it is to say the name Barry Zito, but Jason Schmidt, Brad Radke, Andy Pettite, Adam Eaton, John Smoltz, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark Redman and Kip Wells are available.

There has been some talk about converting Papelbon back into a starter, which I’d be in favor of if we could find someone to close. Craig Hansen is not ready yet, and he showed this year that his confidence might be fragile. This year’s free agents with closing experience are not that impressive: Eddie Guardado, Francisco Cordero, Octavio Dotel, Dustin Hermanson, Brian Meadows.

2) Bullpen. If we sign at least two decent starting arms, Papelbon can keep closing. Manny DelCarmen and Craig Hansen should be better next year, and Kyle Snyder will make an excellent swingman. Foulke and Tavarez will be around to mopup, but we need one more veteran to be a strong bridgeman to replace Mike Timlin.

3) Let Loretta walk. Dustin Pedroia is ready, and as I said before, it’s worth it to keep Alex Gonzalez around. This means next year’s infield is set with Youkilis, Pedroia, Gonzalez and Lowell. Hinske will backup the corners and come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and Cora should continue to fill in the middle.

4) Do the outfield shuffle. First, let Trot go. As much as I love and respect this guy, his best days are behind him, and he’ll be too pricey to keep around. That leaves Manny, Pena and Crisp in the outfield. I haven’t given up on Crisp’s bat yet, but perhaps he’s better suited to play left in the majors. We don’t have room for this guy on this team. I’d like to see him traded for a bona fide centerfielder. Alternatively, we could acquire a big right field bat and play Pena in center.

I think the offense and defense are fine. They produced and kept us in the hunt for most of the season. But we are an old and injury-prone team, especially the pitchers. If we shore up our staff, we might be able to contend in 2007.

Keep A-Gonz

Alex GonzalezAlex Gonzalez has been a pleasant surprise and a key cog of this year’s top-rated defense. True, he has cooled off this half, hitting below the Mendoza line since August 1. But he was hitting .300 for two straight months before that, and I can’t count how many baserunners he’s saved, helping keep us in first for most of the season.

Let Mark Loretta go. He’s older than Gonzalez (35 vs. 29), and his range at second is diminishing. He was an All-Star this season, and played hard, yes. I appreciate the guy, but he’ll be expensive to resign for us, and he’ll have no problem finding a new team. In comparison, we can resign Alex Gonzalez for a fraction of the cost of a Loretta. He’s proven that he can play here in Boston. He and Lowell can keep working together on the left side, and Dustin Pedroia will get his shot in 2007. Please, Theo.

David Ortiz, Most Valuable Papi

David OrtizThere has been some discussion about who should be the MVP this year. There are those who are staunchly against a designated hitter being crowned MVP, but there are a lot of reasons (about 109 of them) I’d like to give you why David Ortiz is without a doubt this year’s MVP:

On August 7, Big Papi is leading the major leagues with 109 RBI, ten more than anyone else. He just hit his major-league leading 40th home run last night, which makes it 3 40 HR seasons in a row for Ortiz, a Red Sox record. His season numbers: .290/.396/.631 with 21 2B, 1 3B and 40 HR in 420 AB. He’s scored 84 R and driven in 109 RBI. He also has 72 BB and 90 K.

David Ortiz has improved his numbers against left-handed pitchers (.270/.343/.592), and is no longer stymied by “left-handed specialists”. He has gotten better and better, just ask pitchers around the majors. He’s got no holes, and he can pull it or go to the opposite field. He’s striking out less, too. And he’s doing it all against an unorthodox shift that hasn’t been seen in the majors in years (basically the second baseman becomes a fourth outfielder).

Not only that, David Ortiz is Mr. Clutch. I know stat heads don’t like that term, but even Bill James has been forced to retreat a little bit on this one. Out of Papi’s 40 HR so far this year, 22 of them have either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead. Yes, you read that correctly. No player compares with Ortiz on this. And then there’s the walk-off hits, 15 in three years with the Sox. Nine of those have been home runs. He’s even hitting .333 (5/15) lifetime against Mariano Rivera. The credentials are endless.

But it’s not just the numbers that prove Papi’s worth. If you missed last night’s Red Sox game, you missed a sight. In the top of the 5th inning, Ortiz took J. P. Howell out to deep right field with a line shot that was positively SMOKED. That thing could have gone 500 feet, seriously. Howell had pitched a pretty good game up until that point, but he just self-destructed after that drive. He walked the bases loaded, and the Tampa Rays gave up three more runs before the side was retired. All this is hard to quantify, but there is a very real intimidation factor with Ortiz. He induces panic and chaos in those he faces.

Take him out of the lineup, and there’s no way Boston’s offense is scoring like that. David Ortiz should be the MVP, end of discussion. He transforms an offense, he carries this team on his back. I’m truly happy for Jim Thome, who should win comeback player of the year, and Travis Hafner is great, but this trophy is taken, sorry.

One thing I realized from this little study is that franchises are not made and broken by smaller deals, but by signing players like David Ortiz who blossom and become superstars.

The AL/NL divide

Boston's sweep of the Washington Nationals and their 8-1 record in interleague play got me thinking. Were all AL teams this successful against the NL? Certainly the NL West is the weakest division in baseball, but is there a measurable difference?

Many pitchers who put up impressive numbers in the National League are really struggling in the American League. This is to be expected, since AL lineups feature one more bona fide hitter than National League lineups. But it's common baseball wisdom that pitching and defense (which NL teams excel at) are what win out in a series, not offense. We hear that preached every playoffs.

Looking at the AL's cumulative record in interleague play, I found that AL teams have a 77-48 record (not a misprint) against their NL counterparts this year. Surprising. No, startling. This is not just dumb luck, but a sign of a severe imbalance of talent here. Is there really this much difference between the competitiveness of the two leagues? After all, there are plenty of huge stars and strong lineups in the NL, aren't there?

In 2005, AL teams were a combined 134-118 against the NL, far more even. It seems that the AL has gone out and signed away many of the top pitchers who excelled in the National League, and other AL teams have countered by signing better hitters and even more pitchers. The top 4 payrolls in baseball for 2006 belong to AL teams. That said, it's not just about money.

Let's look at some of the players who have switched leagues. How can Bronson Arroyo, a career 4.50 ERA pitcher, go to the Reds and be 9-3 with a 2.47 ERA? Josh Beckett with the Marlins in 2004 and 2005: 3.79 and 3.38 ERA. This year in the AL, 5.09 ERA. He can pitch, but he'll have to learn to pitch better. Rudy Seanez put up ERAs of 2.74 and 2.69 the last two years playing for the Padres and the Marlins. In 2006 with the Sox, he's just recently managed to drop his ERA down to 4.50. This is no fluke. The take home lesson is, be careful when judging a player's talent by his numbers in the NL, if you plan to bring him over to the AL. Of course, there are exceptions, players who just flat out know how to pitch and hit. But don't expect the numbers necessarily to translate over, even for players like Roger Clemens or John Smoltz. This makes the achievements of players like Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon that much more impressive.

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