10-31-2011: Sox pick up Scutaro, decision remains on Wheeler

With the World Series over, MLB players have started to declare for free agency. That means the deadline for teams  exercising or declining their options on players is coming right up.

The Red Sox exercised their $6M option on Marco Scutaro yesterday. The 35-year old shortstop had an excellent season, hitting .299/.358/.423 this year and exhibiting the contact (94.7% contact rate) and pesky hitter skills (3.92 P/PA) the Sox valued when they brought him aboard.

Defensively, Scutaro played well (+1.0 UZR/150) at a premium defensive position where Jed Lowrie seems to be proving less and less capable the past two years (-15.4 and -17.4 UZR/150). Scutaro has been about average at the position since he joined the Sox two seasons ago, so it makes a lot of sense to keep him on one more year, with Jose Iglesias still on the cusp of the Majors. A 2013 roster with Iglesias starting and Lowrie as the utility infielder looks pretty good to me.

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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.

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.

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5-21-2011: Sox acquire Morales, sign Millwood

Sox trade a PTBNL for Franklin Morales

The pitching injuries are piling up again. With Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks out, the bullpen is a little thin. I was a little surprised to hear that Hideki Okajima was DFA’d, but you have to know that the Sox were dissatisfied with their lefty reliever situation this year, quickly discarding Denys Reyes. This move comes down to upgrading the bullpen. Morales was considered a pretty good prospect just two years ago, and is a lefty who throws a 94 mph heater and a good curve. His presence makes the deteriorating Okajima expendable (his three-year numbers are all trending in the wrong direction). Theo Epstein is hoping that we can retain him if he can slip through waivers, but if not, we’ll trade him.

It’s true, Morales’ numbers are not good, but that’s why he was available. He strikes out more hitters than Oki, but has struggled with walking batters and giving up the long ball (though I hear that happens from time to time in Colorado). Perhaps Curt Young can work some magic with the young flamethrower. I’ll have to see what we send back in return for him, but this seems like a good upside deal to me.

Kevin Millwood signed to a minor-league deal

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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.

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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.

1-2-2011: Okajima signs, bullpen and roster complete

With the signing of Hideki Okajima over the weekend, the Red Sox bullpen makeover is complete and we are looking at a full 40-man and a filled-out active roster.

Here’s what our projections see for this bullpen going forward:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Papelbon 68.2 9.9 2.9 2.95
Doubront 38.2 8.5 3.8 3.57
Jenks 55.1 8.3 3.1 3.59
Bard 60.2 9.1 3.9 3.61
Miller 38.0 7.8 3.9 3.77
Okajima 57.0 7.9 3.5 3.85
Wheeler 57.1 7.9 3.0 4.09
Albers 34.0 6.6 4.4 4.50
Hill 23.1 8.0 5.4 5.21

Not bad, Mr. Epstein, not bad at all. The projections see Jonathan Papelbon returning to form this season. His ERA was high, but his peripherals were still solid last season, as shown by his 3.51 FIP and 3.72 xFIP last season. As long as he can avoid the DL, I think this is a distinct possibility.

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