Author Archives: MCoA

When the neighborhood is not the neighborhood

Very harsh to call this his "gaffe," redsox.com (RLRS Photo).

Very harsh to call this his “gaffe,” redsox.com (RLRS Photo).

I guess it does not matter that much whether the Sox win or lose right now. I guess that if the Sox can lose enough games to have a protected top-ten pick in the June draft, that’s a good thing. But regardless I do not like losing.

A double-play started by Xander Bogaerts at shortstop was overturned on review because Bogaerts released the ball to first before stepping on second. The rule in MLB’s new replay system is that the neighborhood play, where the pivot man in the double play gets an out at second by standing very close to the bag but not on it, is not reviewable. This is presumably done for reasons of player safety, as there would be a lot more lower leg injuries if the pivot man had to plant right where the runner is sliding.

But after consultation with the office in New York, the play was called reviewable and then overturned. As Steven Petrella explains for RedSox.com:

Plays like that are often not reviewable, but because this was a race to the bag between Bogaerts and Marc Krauss instead of a throw to second that Bogaerts needed to field — a “neighborhood play,” which means a player just needs to be near the bag while turning two so he can safely avoid a sliding runner — Porter could challenge it.

I see the point that a race to the bag needs to be won by either the fielder or the runner. It seems to me though, that in this case most of the same injury prevention issues apply. We will see what happens with Farrell’s protest.

Notes on Cespedophilia

I haven’t had time to fully collect my thoughts on the deadline madness. But last night solidified one thing. Jose had been talking about the value of a baseball team that’s fun to watch, even when the team isn’t going to make the playoffs. There are still thousands of fans in the stands every night, and the club has a real responsibility to entertain them. On that score at least, we can count the deadline moves as a reasonable success.

There is something very special that happens when Yoenis Cespedes connects with a baseball.

Wow. That was cool.

End of analysis. Go watch it again.

Source: Red Sox Play, Win West Coast Series

He throws the ball real hard (RLRS Photo).

He throws the ball real hard (RLRS Photo).

The schedule-makers gave the Red Sox a nasty little run here in mid-August. They flew to St. Louis for three with the Cardinals, and then without a rest day on to Anaheim for a series with a club sporting baseball second-best record. The kids in the rotation stepped up, and the Sox won two of three. Despite a highly unpleasant 19-inning loss on Saturday, Sox fans have to be reasonably pleased with these games. First, While wins and losses are not the primary measuring stick for this team down the stretch, wins over top opposition are always nice. Second, the biggest driver of these wins was three good performances by pitchers the Red Sox will need in 2015.

Clay Buchholz actually threw a good game and struck out eight. I have no expectations for him, but it was good to see something other than a disaster start. Allen Webster threw a very solid 65 percent of his pitches for strikes in a good outing. And best of all, Rubby De La Rosa dominated yesterday. The bullpen was dead, and he went seven strong innings. He sat 92-96 on the fastball and got consistent swings-and-misses with his changeup and slider. There’s a really lovely plot at Brooks Baseball showing the excellent separation between these three pitches.

Rubby has three pitches

You can see how De La Rosa’s changeup has the same horizontal movement as his fastball but sits 8-10 mph slower, while the slider comes in at close to the same speed as the changeup but breaks big right to left. That is a big league starter’s arsenal.

For the remainder of 2014 to be a success, the Red Sox need outings like this from El Lankador in particular. The tryouts for young pitchers are fun, but guys need to earn jobs for next year. Yesterday De La Rosa put himself in serious contention for the rotation next year.

What Is Wrong With Xander Bogaerts?

You're good at this, kid (RLRS Photo).

You’re good at this, kid (RLRS Photo).

The young Red Sox shortstop smacked a double to the gap in last night’s loss, after doing the same the night before. Maybe, maybe he is finally turning it around. But perhaps the thing I expected most when I returned to baseball after the World Cup was that Xander Bogaerts would have settled in and started crushing the ball. Instead, he is still not really hitting. He had typically been a slow starter in the minors, and I figured there would just be some adjustment period. When Bogaerts hit 327/407/490 in May, he was clearly benefiting from a spike in batting average on balls in play, but a 12 XBH month seemed to presage better things to come. Instead, Bogaerts just fell off a cliff.

And what’s worse, it seems like he lost his control over the strike zone at the same time. Bogaerts has been striking out too much all year, but at least early on he was drawing walks. He walked in about 11 percent of his plate appearances in April and May, with a high but not awful 49:25 strikeout to walk ratio. Since then, Bogaerts has walked in under three percent of his PA. He has a Middlebrooksian 54:6 strikeout to walk ratio. The power has disappeared at the same time. 19 extra-base hits in April and May, down to 11 in the next several months.

If it were a lingering injury, you would think Bogaerts would have reasonable control of the strike zone. If it were an adjustment period, he sure is taking a long time to adjust. I am still very hopeful about Bogaerts for the future, but it would be a nice if he would hit like the future superstar I still think he is at some point this summer.

Christian Vazquez Has Crazy Great Early Numbers

He is good at this  (RLRS Photo).

He is good at this (RLRS Photo).

Not his hitting, of course. Christian Vazquez is hitting a perfectly acceptable 350/370 and he’s only struck out six times in 15 games. Vazquez’ contact ability was his best batting skill in the minors, and it is a good sign that he’s maintained solid numbers in the majors. But the young catcher does not hit for much power or draw a ton of walks, and he’s never going to be close to a great hitter.

We already had evidence that Vazquez was a great defensive catcher in his control of the running game. Red Sox folks had raved about his pop times, but the early returns on his pitch framing are even better. He’s worked out with the Molinas, some of the best pitch-framers in the business, and he appears to have developed skills that could give Bengie, Yadier or Jose a run for their money.

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan produced an incredible chart of balls and strikes called with Vazquez behind the plate. (The article also includes a fantastic selection of gifs to show precisely what Vazquez is doing to earn the added strikes.)

Wow

According to Baseball Prospectus’ catching metric, all those added red dots add up to about four of five runs saved in just a handful of games. Over a full season, that is a scientifically measured crapton of runs saved. Even at just 5-10 runs saved over a season, it would be enough to make Vazquez a league average catcher, or better, on a minimum salary. If he’s anything like a Molina-quality pitch framer, Vazquez could be a hidden star.

Blake Swihart watch out.

Some Thoughts About Baseball

Baseball! (RLRS Photo)

Baseball! (RLRS Photo)

I spent most of the last month, well, I spent most of the last month taking care of a baby. But the time spent not taking care of a baby was mostly spent watching and writing about soccer. It was fun. The weird part was when I realized that I didn’t have time to watch a baseball game one night. Then I didn’t have time the next night. Then it had been a month and I had watched no more than an inning or two of baseball.

That was weird. In some ways, what the World Cup did was replace one of baseball’s best attributes. It’s always there. You have plans? That’s ok, baseball will be there tomorrow, and there will be fifteen games for you to pick between. For two weeks of World Cup, there were three matches a day, and even after that the games kept coming. Soccer can’t usually scratch that daily itch, but during the World Cup it steps up.

But daily World Cup matches are also nothing like daily baseball games. The World Cup is much more the playoffs than the regular season. Baseball’s pace and intensity and different during the season, and no other sport can really compare. I got myself prepared for each World Cup game. I just kind of turn on each baseball game. It’s a good change of pace.

The other big thing with soccer is its newness. Not only is the sport reasonably new to me, as a fan, but there’s a huge in how much statistical research has been done. So if I have a question, I usually have to collect the data and do the work myself. And in trying to do the work myself, I’ve found big error bars on nearly everything. Even when something seems like a solid finding, the next week’s results always seem to invalidate it.

I’ve been wondering to what degree that’s true in baseball, too. While obviously baseball breaks into discrete events much more readily than soccer, and provides a much larger sample of events to study, so much remains indeterminate. The 2013 Red Sox certainly played toward the limits of their ability, but with most of the team returned, the Sox have not been good. Xander Bogaerts isn’t hitting despite looking for all the world like an amazing prospect. The Orioles are kind of good, and so are the Brewers. Nelson Cruz is amazing somehow. No one really knows for sure who’s good at fielding. Big chunks of the game, it seems to me, remain at the limits of analysis. I’m not saying I feel like doing new research on baseball, but trying to do new research on soccer has left me with the feeling that baseball has more mysteries than I had previously acknowledged.

Why The Red Sox Should Not Punt 2014

Let's keep him (RLRS Photo).

Let’s keep him (RLRS Photo).

With tonight’s loss, the Red Sox have fallen to 47-53, 8.5 games behind the Orioles in the AL East and only slightly closer to Seattle for the second wild card. This is a time when a lot of front offices wold see a reason to give up. But I don’t think that the time is here yet.

One of the things that struck me most, coming back to the Red Sox after a month away, is that this still looks like a good baseball team. The improvement of Jackie Bradley and the banishment of AJ Pierzynski have erased two of the lineup’s holes. The bullpen is still lights out. Jon Lester is still an ace and a there’s talent for the other rotation slots. I’m having more fun watching this Sox team than I expected based on their record while I was away. I’d be sad if they chucked the season.

The projections agree with this broad impression. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections rate the Red Sox as the second best team in the AL East and give us a roughly five percent chance of winning the division. So punting the season means giving up on a one-in-twenty shot. That’s not a crazy thing to do, but it requires a good reason.

As best as I can tell, the reason to punt is easy to sum up. The Red Sox could get an A-/B+ prospect for Jon Lester. We have a true ace, in the midst of an excellent season, whom we could sell to the highest bidder. No other Red Sox player would really draw a true prospect, though we could probably get something for Uehara. Talking about trading Peavy or Drew or Miller is superfluous. The return on those players would be nowhere close to justifying giving up on the season.

But I don’t want to trade Lester. I want to re-sign Lester, and surely the Red Sox front office agrees. While from a pure economic self-interest perspective trading Lester should have little effect on his decision on his next contract, I think that’s oversimplistic. Lester has been a Red Sox his whole career. The affective link between Boston and Lester is a big part of what could keep him with the Sox. You break that link with a trade, and there’s a meaningful drop in the chances of re-signing him. So even the possible upside of punting comes with a downside. I would rather work in the young kids to fill the holes as needed and keep playing competitive baseball.

Notes on a Happy Monday

\o/ (RLRS Photo)!

\o/ (RLRS Photo)!

The Red Sox season looked about dead and buried a week ago. Now we’re not quite back where we started, still only at .500 but trailing a hot Blue Jays squad by several games. Still, there are many reasons to be optimistic, or at least to be enjoying the baseball the Sox are playing. A few thoughts.

  • Brock Holt \o/. Baseball is fun sometimes. Especially when a career AAA guy gets his shot and puts up an 1100 OPS to lead the Red Sox back into the middle regions of the AL East. Holt should be starting regularly somewhere on this infield until he cools off.
  • Mike Carp will go on the disabled list with a broken foot. That’s a recovery usually measured in months, not weeks. Daniel Nava will come up, and both he and Holt look likely to stick around for a while.
  • Just re-sign Jon Lester already. He’s an ace. He’s worth $120M easy.
  • It’s notable how much better the Red Sox are when they don’t have a 7.00 ERA pitcher eating up every fifth start. Clay Buchholz can be a useful pitcher and the club should be working to get him healthy again. But he should not regain his rotation spot until he’s shown himself to be a better pitcher than Rubby De La Rosa or Brandon Workman. For me, that would take a couple outings in AAA.
  • Garin Cecchini added to the fun with his first major league hit. Cecchini showed off a perfect Fenway swing, popping a double to left off an outside fastball. Last year Cecchini’s away line in AA was 260/370/345 with a 25% strikeout rate. Pretty similar to his rough numbers this year for Pawtucket. He was carried by a huge 345/485/485 line at Hadlock Field, home of the Maine Monster. If Cecchini is a true Fenway hitter, he might be able to succeed in the majors even off the back of a doubtful AAA campaign.
  • Plus Alex Hassan is from Quincy and his whole family was there yesterday.