11-12-2011: Papelbon signs with the Phillies

Four years and $50M, that’s what it took for Jonathan Papelbon to bid adieu to the Red Sox. The deal reportedly contains a vesting option for a fifth year at a salary of $13M or so. GM Ben Cherington noted that the Red Sox were not really a match for Paps and what he wanted going forward, but he will be missed for at least the first couple of years, I would think. My suspicion is that the Red Sox shied away from any four year deal because of their ongoing concerns about his shoulder.

Papelbon was just a great, great player for this club at a time when we desperately needed a strong closer. His memorable performances and personality will be missed.

It’s not that Papelbon is irreplaceable – there are a lot of relievers out there who are closer material – but I would rather not be dealing with another unknown quantity coming into 2012. The scouts and the data suggest that Daniel Bard is the most ready option to take the ball in the ninth, and I’m glad that Bobby Jenks should still be around next year as well. We’ll still need two more solid arms back there, though.

The good news? Papelbon did not go to the Yankees or anyone else in the AL. Still, we could very well be seeing him in the World Series one day soon. I just hope that it’ll be later rather than sooner, because he is still a tough, tough matchup. Making a move to the NL is a great move for Papelbon, and he is likely to put up some staggering numbers there if he can stay healthy.

Thanks for the memories, Jonathan, and best of luck to you. At least until the World Series.

11-9-2011: Other areas of need and available free agents

Ben Cherington came out yesterday and suggested that the Red Sox were not likely to be big players on the free agent market this offseason. I think he’s being genuine, but even if they were, what good would it do them to come out and say that?

Here are the problem areas as I see them, and some free agent projections (all numbers assume a transition to the AL East).

1. Starting pitching

With so much money already committed to the rotation, I would be surprised if the Red Sox continued to throw money at this problem. Adding C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish would be nice, but can we afford another $100M contract here, while our core players will be earning more and more every season? Signing a big arm to a long-term deal like that might mean saying goodbye to Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz once their current deals expire.

Name Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP
CJ Wilson 31 182.1 8.2 3.7 0.5 3.42 1.30
Roy Oswalt 34 161.6 7.1 2.4 0.9 3.93 1.30
Erik Bedard 33 64.2 8.7 3.5 1.0 3.94 1.36
Hiroki Kuroda 37 154.8 7.2 2.4 1.0 4.06 1.34
Mark Buehrle 33 189.1 4.9 2.1 0.9 4.10 1.39
Edwin Jackson 28 186.5 7.3 3.3 0.9 4.14 1.45
Freddy Garcia 35 109.2 6.1 2.7 1.0 4.27 1.40
Bartolo Colon 39 93.8 7.0 2.7 1.2 4.28 1.40
Javier Vazquez 35 167.3 8.0 2.7 1.3 4.41 1.33
Jeff Francis 31 123.2 5.6 2.4 0.9 4.58 1.46
Paul Maholm 30 161.2 5.5 3.2 0.9 4.68 1.54
Tim Wakefield 45 118.8 5.8 3.3 1.1 4.92 1.46

As you can see, bringing back Tim Wakefield really shouldn’t be an option; almost any free agent is likely to be better than him going forward. Erik Bedard has huge injury concerns, and that’s not what this staff needs. Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t seem likely to come out east. I think Roy Oswalt could be a fit if he’s willing to take a two-year deal at good money, and Buehrle would be a solid signing if we can get him for fewer than four years. Edwin Jackson scares me a little bit long-term, so I’d avoid offering him more than three years as well.

2. A closer/setup man (or two)

Read more of this post

11-3-2011: Replacing Papelbon

And now for part two of our free agent series. This time, we take a look at Jonathan Papelbon going forward. Paps had a really strong 2011 campaign, and he showed a new commitment to strength and conditioning which I believe reflected in his numbers: a 2.94 ERA and 12.2 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9. His FIP was a miserly 1.53, easily the best of his career. His velocity did not slip at all from previous years, and if anything his fastball popped just a bit more, and he was able to locate his splitter down out of the zone, making it a hugely effective out pitch.

At the tender age of 30, he already has piled up 219 saves, and is quickly climbing the leaderboard in that category. Here’s what our projections see for him going forward, from ages 31-34:

Year IP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 WHIP ERA
2012 67.3 0.69 2.95 10.38 1.16 2.95
2013 65.5 0.71 2.99 10.27 1.17 3.02
2014 63.0 0.73 3.05 10.13 1.19 3.11
2015 60.0 0.76 3.13 9.96 1.22 3.21

Papelbon actually looks like a pretty safe signing for the next 3-4 years. The question is, will that be enough? Most players will not outright tell you that they are out to break the bank – Papelbon has done exactly that, comparing himself to Mariano Rivera and insisting at every contract negotiation that he be paid more than any closer in history.

Read more of this post

10-6-2011: The year that was

Alright, now that the initial sting has worn off a bit, I can go back and actually try to analyze this past season with some objectivity. We’ll cover our predictions, what went right and what went wrong.

First up, we predicted that the Sox would take the division with 92 wins. While the win figure was not off by much, the Yankees took it with 97 wins (not 90), and of course the Rays edged us out in the final game of the season with 91 wins (not 83). We also had Baltimore with 79 wins and Toronto at 76. Oops.

OFFENSE

We projected Boston to be 2nd best in the AL East at 820 runs behind New York’s 830 runs. In actuality, we led all of baseball by scoring 875 runs compared to 867 for the pinstripes.

Read more of this post

9-29-2011: RIP to the Red Sox

Last night was such a fitting end to the Red Sox’ 2011 season. With the Sox up 3-2 and the Rays trailing New York 7-0, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that, at worst, we’d be playing that one-game playoff today. But one rain delay, a Dan Johnson pinch-hit home run and a Jonathan Papelbon collapse later, it was suddenly gone. I just have no words. How do you explain a season where we were roundly picked as the best team in baseball, and we collapse like this? How do you explain THIS (image taken from FanGraphs.com):

Read more of this post

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.

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.

Read more of this post

6-2-2011: May wrapup, a great month

The month of May was a good one for the Sox, a really good one. They began the month at just 11-15 on the year, scraping the bottom of the division. The offense was barely average, and the pitching was decent but inconsistent. What a difference a month makes. Now Boston sits at 30-26 on the year, and is in second place, just two games back of the Yankees, despite the recent three-game sweep at the hands of the ChiSox. What have been the keys to this turnaround?

Offense

The Red Sox offense was the most potent in the American League in May, and not by a little. Putting up 126 runs in 29 games (5.38 runs/game) is very impressive by 2011 offensive standards, where league average is just 4.30 runs/game. Just a year ago, the average was 4.45 runs/game, and the year before that, it was 4.82 runs/game. So you probably have to kind of mentally add a quarter to a half run per game onto that figure if you want to compare with previous years.

Month R/G Avg OBP SLG BABIP wOBA BB% K%
April 4.11 0.243 0.331 0.380 0.283 0.319 10.9 21.1
May 5.38 0.287 0.349 0.472 0.317 0.361 7.9 18.4

As a team, the Red Sox put up a .287/.349/.472 slash line and a .361 wOBA (second was the Yankees at .340) and were about 26 percent better than the average AL offense. Looking at the walk and strikeout rates, it looks like the Sox as a team got more aggressive, and it’s been paying off. also, the power is back on. They hit the most doubles with 61 and tied with New York for first with 39 HRs this month. Even the running game got started (along with Carl Crawford), as the Sox swiped 28 bases in May. Some of this extra production comes from that high .317 BABIP in May. With league average at .286 on the year, that’s going to fall back to earth a bit. Still, this offense has moved up to fourth on the year and has the potential to keep pushing up the ranks.

Read more of this post

5-9-2011: The rebuilt bullpen, a work in progress

After one month, it seems that everything about the sub-.500 Red Sox is unsatisfactory. I read this article the other day impugning our new bullpen, and I’ll admit there have been some really bad moments, but has it really been that bad?

As a group, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.89 thus far, which ranks as the 4th-worst bullpen in the AL and 6th-worst figure in all of baseball. But if you take a closer look at the figures, they have not pitched that badly. Rather, their 7.37 K/9 and 0.86 HR/9 rank solidly in the middle, and they’ve walked very few batters at 3.17 BB/9. This translates into a much better 3.74 FIP and 3.78 xFIP (corrected for HR luck), which puts them right in the middle of the pack. Considering that they pitch in the uber-talented AL East, I’d say that’s not a bad performance at all. I’d be happy to get that kind of performance from them for the year.

One glaring weakness has been their inability to prevent runners from scoring, as shown by their 64.6 LOB%, fourth-worst in MLB behind the White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. You could chalk a lot of that up to bad luck, but whatever the reason, once guys get on base, they tend to score more often against the Sox than other teams.

Read more of this post

4-4-2011: Separating the real worries from the imaginary

Try not to get swept away (pun intended) in the collective madness that is Boston fandom and sports media. I think the Sox got taken in by the sky-high expectations and all the preseason love. When everyone except Hank Steinbrenner picks you to win your division, and people start talking about 100 wins in a division like the AL East before a single pitch is thrown, it doesn’t matter how focused you say you are, it will affect you. In an ironic twist, they experienced a bit of what the Yankees went through every year for so long, and they flunked the test with flying colors.

Baseball has this way of making things look better or worse than they really are. The Sox are very much still contenders, but they are starting from an 0-3 deficit now (so is Tampa Bay, BTW). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to some real baseball, what do you say, guys?

Things that shouldn’t worry you yet

Jon Lester didn’t strike out a single Ranger in his start.

It’s hard to explain what happened, but it just wasn’t Jon’s day. The fastball velocity was a little lacking, but that’s not unusual at the start of the season. Lester has always been a slow starter, for whatever reason. He’ll get into his usual streak of 5-6 shutdown starts by the beginning of May.

Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.