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)

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10-12-2011: Epstein to join the Cubs

If you haven’t heard it by now, Theo Epstein to the Cubs is pretty much a done deal at five years and between $15-20M. He will assume GM duties there, but he will be given basically free reign and report to only one person. It’s hard to blame him for wanting the opportunity Chicago offers, with a bigger market, a high-profile team, and a chance to make history – again. Still, if I were him, I don’t think I would want to leave a team like this, after the biggest September collapse in Major League history.

From what was reported, the front office was trying desperately to keep Epstein, but he’s had issues with them before about having more autonomy. On the bright side, the Sox stand to gain compensation for letting him leave a year early. It looks like it will be a high-profile prospect and cash, and names like RF Brett Jackson and SP Andrew Cashner have been mentioned. I’d be glad to add either of those guys to our organization; both of those are areas of need.

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Link 10-12-2011: How it all went down in September

Finally, the sordid details of the problems in the Red Sox clubhouse have come out. The Globe’s Bob Hohler lays it all out for us. The lowlights include a dysfunctional and fractured clubhouse, a “me-first” attitude among most of the players, and a general spoiled brat, complaining attitude.

Looking at this, I have to place a big part of the blame on Josh Beckett. He’s the guy who should have stepped up and talked to these guys who were getting out of line. John Lackey was the new guy, and would have been ostracized if he had pulled this stuff on his own, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are followers (though they didn’t have to be); they couldn’t have been like this without Beckett leading the chicken-and-beer-fueled charge. Instead we hear that Beckett was grousing that he fell out of contention for the Cy Young, and veterans like David Ortiz yakking about an RBI which should have been added to his stat line. Just disgraceful and disgusting. No wonder Terry Francona and Theo Epstein want to leave.

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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.

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5-17-2011: What we know about our pitchers by now

While several hitting statistics are starting to stabilize by this point in the season, pitching stats take quite a bit longer to mean something. At 150 batters faced, you can reference strikeout rate, GB rate and line drive rate, and at 200 batters faced, you can talk about fly ball rate and FB/GB ratio. Here’s a look at these numbers from our rotation:

2011 2010
Name BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB
Lester 238 24.4% 55.3% 12.0% 32.7% 1.69 861 26.1% 53.6% 16.9% 29.6% 1.81
Buchholz 202 14.9% 47.0% 14.6% 38.4% 1.22 711 16.9% 50.8% 17.7% 31.5% 1.61
Beckett 195 25.1% 43.8% 16.4% 39.8% 1.10 577 20.1% 45.8% 19.0% 35.3% 1.30
Lackey 192 9.9% 33.6% 21.2% 45.2% 0.74 930 16.8% 45.6% 18.4% 36.0% 1.27
Matsuzaka 167 15.6% 31.6% 12.8% 55.6% 0.57 664 20.0% 33.0% 21.6% 45.5% 0.73
Wakefield 99 11.1% 37.5% 16.3% 46.3% 0.81 610 13.8% 37.0% 16.5% 46.6% 0.79

You can see that Jon Lester is his same dominant self, and that he is clearly the ace of this staff, boasting very high strikeout and ground ball rates. Josh Beckett is fully healthy, striking out hitters at the highest rate in the rotation and a lower line drive rate. Clay Buchholz is very solid in these peripherals, and so we should continue to see solid starts out of him, though he won’t likely reproduce that sub-3.00 ERA from last season.

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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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4-4-2011: 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.

2-23-2011: Official projections

Most of the major projection systems are out, and Sox Therapy has gone and compiled the numbers for our Red Sox. They have CAIRO, PECOTA and ZiPS available there. For comparison’s sake, here’s what I have for this coming season:

Offensive projections

Name Avg OBP SLG
Saltalamacchia 0.244 0.320 0.391
Gonzalez 0.289 0.378 0.507
Pedroia 0.300 0.369 0.467
Scutaro 0.267 0.339 0.372
Youkilis 0.295 0.392 0.526
Crawford 0.296 0.349 0.456
Ellsbury 0.283 0.341 0.403
Drew 0.267 0.370 0.478
Ortiz 0.256 0.351 0.490
Cameron 0.245 0.329 0.432
Lowrie 0.252 0.333 0.411
Varitek 0.225 0.310 0.384
McDonald 0.251 0.326 0.395

Perhaps the most difficult player to project this year is Adrian Gonzalez. It’s true that Gonzalez is coming from pitcher-friendly PETCO to play in decidedly hitter-friendly Fenway. However, you also have to consider the fact that the level of competition in the NL West is decidedly lower than that of the AL East, the division many of the top pitchers and rotations in baseball call home. Add to that the large number of left-handed starters in this division compared with the NL West, and you have our current (conservative) projection for Gonzalez. I have him pegged for 30 HR and 105 RBI, but that’s assuming he makes an average transition from the senior to the junior circuit. Being a well above average player, he could easily best those figures if he stays healthy.

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