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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10-13-2011: Some random thoughts on free agents

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to leave all this clubhouse talk behind and start thinking about next year. We’ve got a number of decisions to make on our own guys, and I’ve heard lots of names bandied about, which I’d like to weigh in on and discuss.

David Ortiz, DH (age 36 next year)

The guy has been great for us, and he had a wonderful bounceback year. I expect he’ll be wanting a three- or even four-year deal, but I would like to see the Sox spend no more than 2/20 on him if he stays. Is anyone convinced that he will definitely duplicate his numbers next year? How about in two years? Three?¬†Given his age and his recent comments, maybe we SHOULD let him go, take our draft picks and let Kevin Youkilis DH. We can sign a stopgap third sacker and let him compete with Jed Lowrie/Mike Aviles for the job until Will Middlebrooks is ready.

C.J. Wilson, SP (age 31 next year)

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9-7-2011: Just how good are these prospects, anyway?

The Red Sox had a lot of their top prospects succumb to injury or slump in 2011, but not all the news is bad. Once these guys get up to the Double-A and Triple-A levels, it becomes possible to project what their batting lines might be based on their component rates (how often they walk, strike out, hit home runs, etc.).

Here’s a quick look at what we might get out of these guys next year, based on their track record so far (all numbers assume starting roles for the Red Sox next season, adjusted for Fenway Park).

Josh Reddick, RF (.261/.321/.433 with 35 doubles and 18 HR in 557 AB)

Reddick finally got healthy and got the chance to open some eyes this year with his bat, his glove and energetic play. While he had a great season, most of his batting average came from an unusually high rate of singles, as shown by his high-ish .329 BABIP. His projected 7.6 BB% and 20.9 K% rates for next year suggest that he might be on the cusp of a starting role. It’s worth noting that it won’t take much to better the .232/.304/.360 the Sox got out of their right fielders this season. I fully expect the Sox to give him a shot at the job in the offseason, but they should bring in a short-term veteran for him to compete with.

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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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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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5-10-2011: What we know so far about our Red Sox lineup

This year is just over one month old, but it seems like the Red Sox have been scuffling forever, doesn’t it? Besides that 10-day streak of pitching dominance, this year’s team just hasn’t felt like contenders to me. BUT small sample size, you say! Yes, I grant you that. There are certainly signs of hope. Carl Crawford is turning it on now, and Adrian Gonzalez’ power is showing up one month late. But when is it safe to say something according to the numbers we already have?

When stats start to mean something

Turns out sabermetricians have already gone and done the hard work for us. Here is a handy list of statistics and around how many plate appearances you need before they start to mean something. Given that most of our regulars have about 100-150 PA, that means we can only really draw meaningful conclusions about the following:

  • Swing rate (50 PA)
  • Contact rate (100 PA)
  • K rate, LD%, Pitches/PA (150 PA)

Not a whole lot to go on. But let’s do the exercise anyway:

2011 2010
Name PA Swing% K% Contact% LD% Pit/PA PA Swing% K% Contact% LD% Pit/PA
Pedroia 151 44.0 20.5 79.4 13.7 4.36 714* 39.7 7.2 93.0 20.0 3.96
Gonzalez 149 48.2 16.8 85.7 16.8 3.71 693 48.8 19.3 78.7 21.1 4.50
Ellsbury 140 44.7 22.5 84.3 20.4 3.79 693* 41.2 11.9 88.4 17.7 3.77
Crawford 136 47.7 18.8 83.3 15.9 3.76 663 51.1 17.3 82.8 16.5 3.75
Ortiz 131 43.4 14.2 81.7 20.4 4.23 606 44.5 28.0 75.8 17.3 4.37
Youkilis 128 35.9 30.7 78.5 21.1 4.63 435 38.5 18.5 87.0 16.3 4.28
Lowrie 105 51.5 19.2 82.5 18.5 3.89 689** 43.2 22.1 83.0 20.0 3.98
Drew 104 39.2 25.0 81.3 10.8 4.55 546 38.3 22.0 82.7 16.5 4.08
Scutaro 76 35.1 5.9 97.0 11.1 3.76 695 37.5 11.2 94.8 17.3 4.04
Salty 73 52.3 27.5 74.8 16.0 4.08 972** 49.4 30.6 72.8 20.4 3.92

[* = 2009 stats, ** = career stats used]

You can see that most of the numbers fall into place, but there are some notable differences. Dustin Pedroia’s numbers are all out of whack. He’s swinging more at the dish and striking out almost three times as much as he did last season. His contact rate and line drive percentage are WAY down, which to me suggests some kind of injury. Is this a result of his offseason foot surgery? Could be. He may need some extra time off, which might actually be doable while Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro are both healthy.

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1-24-2011: Papelbon and Ellsbury sign, looking at the recent AL East moves, SS controversy?, the farm system

Warning: long post ahead! If you get bored, check out the countdown to the pitchers and catchers report date here.

Sox avoid arbitration with Papelbon and Ellsbury

Never fear arbitration, Red Sox Nation – Theo Epstein is here. Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury both agreed to new one-year contracts last week, avoiding arbitration despite what were seen to be complex cases. Epstein did the right thing by both players, finalizing the payroll and letting us move on to the more important questions.

For Papelbon, he’s accumulated elite closer stats at a young age, but there are indications that he’s losing his dominance in recent years, and reports that the Sox considered trading him this offseason; that didn’t prevent him from getting a $12M deal for his last year under team control. Should Papelbon leave via free agency after this season, he will almost undoubtedly be a Type A free agent. But those two compensation picks are not guaranteed, since Paps is someone who might actually accept arbitration should the Sox offer it. One look at this year’s reliever deals (apart from Rafael Soriano’s deal), and you’ll see why making $13-15M with the Sox for one season might look better than signing elsewhere, especially if the Yankees (currently with two closers under contract for 2012) are out of the running. Not to mention that several other big-name relievers could hit the market for 2012, including the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton and the Padres’ Heath Bell. This has led to speculation by some that the Sox will try to trade Papelbon during this season, so as to get something for him rather than let him walk for nothing. I think that if the Sox do as well as we all think they will, they will keep him on the squad, and he can walk. It’s worth it if he pitches well.

Then there’s Ellsbury, who looked to be on the up and up until the “unstoppable” Adrian Beltre derailed him for basically all of 2010. With a possible rift between him and the team, questions about his toughness and ability to play regularly, some were arguing that the Sox should try to lowball Ells. That would have been a bad move, and will not work with Scott Boras. As it is, he’s satisfied for now and will try to reestablish his value for next year’s arbitration negotiations.

Manny, Damon and Vernon Wells…

The Rays, Jays and Yankees all made some moves recently in what looks like a bid to catch up with the Red Sox. In what seems like a bad joke, Andrew Friedman reeled in both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez this week. Damon gives them someone who can play left and give Desmond Jennings a chance to take his time, and he can even spell Dan Johnson at first. Manny will probably be the first legitimate DH they’ve ever had.

Name Pos PA AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Damon LF 622 559 151 30 7 13 87 60 61 90 20 0.271 0.344 0.422 0.766 0.351
Ramirez LF 459 397 114 23 3 18 61 65 56 87 3 0.288 0.384 0.491 0.875 0.391

Damon is still a very solid hitter (though the defense is a problem), and with Manny, they may not even feel the loss of Carlos Pena. Both former idiots are aging players and Manny has got his team chemistry issues, but winning solves all ills, so it could work out well for them at a very low cost.

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