4-11-2011: Buchholz signs a 4-year extension

The Red Sox announced a contract extension yesterday, but not for the player you might have expected. Young Clay Buchholz has signed a 4-year deal worth a reported $29.945M which buys out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. The deal is pretty similar to the extension they signed with Jon Lester last season, though for one less guaranteed year. Boston will also hold two club options on Buchholz for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The year-by-year breakdown is given by The Full Count Blog here:

Signing bonus: $1M
2012: $3.5M
2013: $5.5M
2014: $7.7M
2015: $12M

2016 option: $13M with a $245k buyout
2017 option: $13.5M with a $500k buyout

There are some standard bonus clauses for Cy Young finishes.

I wouldn’t worry about Buchholz’ slow start to 2011 (not yet, anyway). His 7.20 ERA is inflated by an incredible 31.3% HR/FB rate, which is roughly three times his career average, and about six times higher than what he did last season. I think after he works through some early season stuff and gets comfortable working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, we will see some solid pitching out of him.

Good contract or bad?

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4-5-2011: Matsuzaka and first innings

Via ESPN, there’s a list of pitchers who are known to have terrible first innings. Our own Daisuke Matsuzaka is right there (7.56 ERA), fourth on the list behind others like Kevin Millwood (11.03), Chris Narveson (9.32) and Johan Santana(7.76). Hmm. I was all prepared to say something nasty about these guys, but then Santana’s name is in there. Of course, this is just 2010 data, so we’re not talking about a whole lot of starts here.

I’ve noticed before that Daisuke seems to be slow in getting into a groove, so I wanted to expand this to his MLB career to see if it was more generally true. Here’s the data:

Year Starts ER ERA Clean 1st %Clean
2007 32 16 4.50 22 69%
2007p 4 0 0.00 4 100%
2008 29 12 3.72 17 59%
2008p 3 3 9.00 1 33%
2009 12 9 6.75 8 67%
2010 25 21 7.56 16 64%
Totals 105 61 5.23 68 65%

Clearly 2010 was a particularly bad year for Matsuzaka. But we can take his career 5.23 ERA in first innings and compare it to his overall ERA, which is 4.18 and say that he does seem to have trouble first innings. The 65% clean inning rate doesn’t seem terribly out of line with what is expected statistically for an average pitcher. Combine those two things, and we can conclude that Dice-K struggles with big first innings (moreso recently).

Playing catchup is no fun for anyone, and that’s probably why people have such a bad impression of Matsuzaka as a pitcher, even though his ERA is actually better than Josh Beckett’s career ERA of 4.28 as a Red Sox. In addition to staying healthy, Matsuzaka needs to prepare for games better, and then he just might be a good pitcher again.

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.

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On the Horizon: LHP Drake Britton

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

Drake Britton is a 21-year old pitching prospect, currently ranked as the Red Sox’ fourth best prospect and number 97 overall in Baseball America’s annual ranking. As one of the youngest prospects in Boston’s system, he is considered to be a very high-ceiling player. At 6-2, 200 he already has a good frame and is still growing.

Background

Hailing from Magnolia, TX, Britton was drafted in 2007 as the Sox’ 23rd round pick out of Tomball HS. He was committed to Texas A&M, and slipped way down due to signability concerns (Boston eventually got him with a $700k bonus). It looks like he turned out to be a real steal after all.

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Link 3-24-2011: Clay Buchholz’s slider

There’s a very good read up over at Beyond the Box Score by Luis Apostoleris on our very own Clay Buchholz and how his slider has changed over the years. As he’s gained confidence in the pitch, Buchholz has been able to phase out his curveball, throwing it less and less each year since 2008. With so many offerings coming at the batter at 90 mph or faster, it’s made his already devastating changeup that much better, from the looks of it.

Throwing the slider harder means that Buchholz is basically using the pitch as a cut fastball, which he can then throw with more spin, resulting in a slower pitch with more break. If you look at the data, the pitch is most effective in the 86 mph range, causing the most whiffs and resulting in the most runs prevented. However, it’s not as simple as only relying on that version of the pitch. One reason it’s so effective is that hitters may be looking for the hard slider, and their timing can be upset when Buch pulls the string a little bit.

Apostoleris is right in that the slider really became a go-to pitch against lefties in 2010, especially inside. Look at the difference between 2009 and 2010 here. The cutter looks inside to a southpaw, then it bends in over the inner part of the plate.

Buchholz credits Jon Lester with helping him develop this pitch. Over the past few years, former pitching coach John Farrell introduced just about every Sox pitcher to the cut fastball as a way of easily adding a different looking pitch which could still be thrown for strikes, so this change is not that surprising.

3-21-2011: The bullpen shakeout

On a team with few questions, the newly rebuilt bullpen has gotten the most attention this spring. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got and what we expect to happen with the roster.

The Locks

Those guaranteed a job include Jonathan Papelbon (closer), Daniel Bard (setup) and Bobby Jenks (setup). Having a top three like this really makes this a formidable bullpen, at least against righties. Dan Wheeler (bridge) will almost certainly be part of this bullpen, so that leaves only 2 spots, really. Should the Sox go with four starters to open the year, I could see them carrying one more reliever to begin.

The Other Contenders

What we really need is for one of the lefties to come out and dominate again. You would think that Hideki Okajima would be guaranteed a spot, being a lefty with experience pitching for the Sox, but actually, the equation is not that simple. Okajima’s contract has a clause in it that allows the Sox to send him to the minors, and with the way Dennys Reyes is throwing, I expect them to exercise it. Reyes is also out of options, which makes it almost certain that if it comes down to the two of them, it’ll be Reyes. Felix Doubront is just as good, if not better than these two, but the Sox will start him at Pawtucket, most likely as a starter, this season.

Of the remaining righties, you’ve got a ton of possibles, including Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, and Michael Bowden. Each of these guys has a different advantage. Atchison is the vet from last year, who is the most known quantity, while Albers has the out-of-options advantage. Aceves and Bowden can be swing men and give you multiple innings, with Aceves having better stuff and Bowden being the long-time Sox farmhand deserving of a shot. I’ve listed these guys in probable order here.

12-16-2010: Sox sign Jenks and DiNardo, talking with Wheeler

Now this is the way an offseason is supposed to go. The Red Sox are striking early and often, inking two more stalwarts for the bullpen today. The Sox got former closer Bobby Jenks on a two-year deal worth $12M, and 31-year old lefty Lenny DiNardo on a minor league/split deal. Jesse Crain just signed a 3-year contract with the wrong color Sox (they love their hard throwing relievers over there in Chicago).

What’s Jenks got left?

Jenks is a classic case of a thrilling young arm that burst on the scene, was overused, and has experienced a decline as closer the past few years. Here are his last few seasons and what we project for him in Fenway for 2011, if he can stay healthy: Read more of this post