"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
February 22, 2001
BASEBALL: 2001 Red Sox Preview Part II
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
Last week we looked at the offense; this week we'll look at the pitching staff. There should be 11 or 12 roster spots open. Let's assume 12 (with someone starting off on the DL) and take a look:
#1 STARTING PITCHER (Ace Di Tutti Aces)
Pedro should be coming into camp ready to go, having stayed in good shape with daily walks on the water near his home in the Dominican Republic . . . this man, like the key Sox hitters, needs help; heís been carrying more stiffs and freeloaders than Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.
Read More ¬Ľ
I've been promising this for a while, so I'll run here the Translated Records for Pedro's last four seasons as compared to Sandy Koufax's final four:
Appreciate this man, while he's in front of you. I never saw Walter Johnson. I never saw Lefty Grove. But I've seen Pedro... and I'll tell my grandchildren about him. Iíll probably run the how-great-exactly-is-Pedro column later in the year, with the historical perspective.
Have you looked at the Red Sox schedule for the coming season? I have. And if you are thinking about the schedule at all, you are thinking about two things:
1. How many games will Pedro start?
Follow me on this one, Sox fans: if Pedro starts opening day (April 2 at Baltimore), it will be impossible for him to appear on his regular rest in the Sox' first two series against the Yankees (April 13-16 and 20-22). If he starts either Saturday or Sunday during the opening weekend at home (April 7-8 against the Rays, which would no doubt keep the sellout crowd happy), and if Jimy Williams is willing to give him an extra day of in May (good possibility), Pedro can appear in all four Sox-Yanks series in April and May. thus potentially face the Yankees six times this year.
Granted, the Yanks beat Pedro 3 times last year, but he's still the guy you want in that situation. And granted, this approach means 11 starts the first two months instead of 12, a loss the Sox don't get back. But there's something to be said for using extra days to keep the Ace of all Aces fresh for the long haul. And if you move beyond that, itís possible to work the second half so that he could start the opener of the first second-half series against the Yanks, a 3-game set ending September 2, and the final Sox-Yanks game to end the last, with a start against the Indians in between.
Hereís Pedro's first two months could go if the Sox attempt that six-man rotation for the first few weeks to keep everyone fresh:
4/2 opening day, Orioles
Notice how Pedro would get five days rest for every start through the second week of May... and he would face the Yankees in every NY-Boston series. I wonít run the whole thing, but the extra rest will cost him starts; if he starts the opener and goes every fifth day without fail he could start 36 times. My schedule would cut that to 35, and 34 if he sits out the last day of the season to prepare for the ALDS (best-case scenario).
It appears, instead, that Jimy intends to give Pedro even more extra days of rest, getting the fifth starter as many starts as Pedro. That means he'll probably use off-days on May 7th and May 14 to give Pedro an extra day of rest, causing him to miss one start against the Yanks. Too bad. Iím all in favor of working Pedro carefully to keep him from repeating past DL trips, but that might be just as well accomplished by keeping some of his early outings short, and either way the prime consideration should be maximizing Pedroís value over the season and postseason, not getting enough starts to decide between Cone and Castillo. Pedro was 4-5 last season on 5 daysí rest (albeit with a 1.91 ERA), so itís not like the record suggests that one extra day of rest is the best way to keep him fresh. Weíll see how it works out, but Iíd love to see him get six shots at the Yankees.
#2 STARTING PITCHER
The Sox are spinning the idea that Nomo will benefit greatly from the new strike zone since he has control troubles and likes to work high in the zone. He certainly will be helped, and there's no reason to think he can't be a solid starter, but I wouldn't get too excited about a return of Nomomania. When Nomo was with the Mets, the popular theory was that he had some sort of incurable degenerative disorder that caused the muscles in shoulder to slowly unravel, sapping his ability to control his pitches. There was also a lot of talk of how insanely hard pitchers work in Japan - Nomo often threw 150+ pitches a night - and the accumulating toll that had taken on his arm. Nomo will be the Sox' number two starter this year (in terms of workload) by default unless the youngsters step up, but I can't see him winning 18 games. A 15-10 season is a much more reasonable forecast, if all goes well and he gets good run support.
The good news is that Nomo has been Ė however maddening he may be to watch Ė steady and durable the last few years. Heís a good bet for 30 starts, at least.
#3 STARTING PITCHER
Yeah, you read the WHIP right Ė Okha was the third-best starter in the AL (ranked by ERA) last year with at least 10 starts, behind Pedro and Barry Zito (Frank Castillo was fourth), and he allowed only one unearned run, so thatís not a deceptive stat. But opposing batters werenít really baffled, hitting .263 with a 741 OPS.
Okha has succeeded everywhere heís pitched, and I expect him to hang in with an ERA around 4.10 this season; if the offense breaks right and heís healthy he could win 16 or 17 games. But heís not going to dominate; another 3.12 ERA is too much to ask.
#4 STARTING PITCHER
Arrojo is probably the biggest wild card on the Sox; I really don't know what to make of him. I have no idea whether he's actually healthy or not, or how old he is, and his time in Coors Field makes it difficult to tell whether his track record the past few seasons spells success or failure. Certainly he's got the deceptive motion and bewildering array of pitches that are common among Latin American pitchers, but then David Cone has those too, and he's still finished. Heís not a horse like El Duque. My sense is that, if he struggles, the Sox might prosper by getting him into the bullpen, where batters will get only one look at him (particularly with the imbalanced schedule). He will likely have a long trial in the rotation to prove himself first because the other options arenít so impressive.
#5 STARTING PITCHER
Iíd compare the Sox rotation to Russian roulette, but that would imply getting their brains blown out only once every six days. Castillo is about as high-risk a starter as there is, but of course he was outstanding last year. In 1993 he followed a 3.46 ERA with a 4.84 ERA, and lasted just 4 starts the next season. In 1996 he followed a 3.21 ERA with ERAs of 5.28 and 5.42 (the latter with a little help from Coors). Each time, his peripheral stats (K/BB ration, hits/IP, HR/IP) were good, no signs of trouble. In 1998 he started well, then got reamed the rest of the way, and didnít pitch in 1999.
In the regular season, Lowe may well be the most valuable relief pitcher in baseball. Heís not as lights-out effective as Rivera or Hoffman (and of course he lacks Riveraís postseason resume), but he works harder, and I canít say it often enough: how much a pitcher pitches is as important to his value as how well he pitches.
That said, even sinkerballers have their limits when it comes to working 90-100 innings a year in relief. Iím not a fan of the current save-driven closer scheme, but while the 2-inning closer can be hugely valuable, itís not clear whether pitchers today can handle Goose Gossage/Kent Tekulve/Mike Marshall/Dick Radatz type workloads. But thereís absolutely no reason Lowe couldnít be effective Ė and probably more durable Ė as a starter. Itís not like the Sox donít need a good number 2 starter. He wouldnít have a 2.89 ERA in the rotation, but he could pitch twice as many innings with less stress on his arm. If the Sox have other options to close games Ė I think they do Ė putting Lowe in the rotation would make a whole lot of sense.
The new Aurelio Lopez, but not as durable. Maybe this is unfair, but I just have a hard time imagining that El Guapo is only five months older than I am. The Twins were talking about making him their closer ten years ago. If heís healthy again (as early reports suggest, but you know what theyíre worth) thereís no reason he canít finish games.
--Jesus Pena (26) (not established in the major leagues)
--Sang-Hoon Lee (30) (not established in the major leagues)
I loved it when the Sox re-signed Schourek and Jimy said it was because he ďknows how to win.Ē Is that how he went 3-11 last year? I guess a less crafty, less veteran pitcher would have been 0-14. Schourek mustíve picked up that winning attitude from being a teammate of Anthony Young . . .
Schourek still has a decent shot at a spot on the staff mostly because the Sox are so short on lefthanded pitching. The only other lefties anywhere in sight are Pena and Lee, unless you're keeping your fingers crossed for Kent Mercker. Penaís pitched 50 innings at one stop only once, but heís been reasonably effective in the minors; the problem is nearly a walk an inning at the major league level. My guess is that the Sox will go north with two lefthanders (they could still get one in a trade) and Lee will be one of them; he should be ready.
Tim Wakefield (34)
Wakefield should be traded. His main attribute as a soft-tossing knuckler is the ability to handle a heavy workload, but heís not Stretch Armstrong; even a knuckler needs a predictable schedule, and his struggles the last two years are at least partially the result of getting jerked around so much (Now heís a starter! Now heís the closer! Now heís a mopup man!). At 34 he may just be entering his prime, and with a regular rotation turn he might well rebound to his 1997-98 form, which plenty of teams could use. But the Sox canít give him the space to try, with too many options and too much pressure to win now. Philly or Detroit would be a good destination. Obviously he wonít help anyone if he gives up 31 homers in 159.1 innings again.
Rod Beck (32)
Hipolito Pichardo (31)
If Beck can pitch, he can close. Iím not a big fan, but he held his own last season, and the glass-armed Pichardo did that one better. Iíd feel better about arguing for Lowe in the rotation except that the back of the bullpen is as unreliable as the back of the rotation; neither of these guys is exactly a safe investment.
Bret Saberhagen (37)
Personally, Iíd like to see the Sox try Sabes in the bullpen. In fact, if heís healthy, thereís no reason he couldnít prosper as an Eck-style closer. Granted, heís 5 years older than Eck was, but Saberhagen can still get people out; the problem is getting him healthy. Throwing 15 pitches three or four days a week is much less stressful than starting for a guy his age (the opposite of Loweís issue, but only because Lowe goes more than an inning and comes into games that arenít save situations; Sabes could be saved for those precisely as a limit on his work).
Paxton Crawford (23)
Crawford should be the first option when one of the others breaks down. With just 11 starts at AAA, he's probably best suited to start the season there, but if Pichardo, Beck and Saberhagen are on the roster, there will be call for him soon enough.
David Cone (38)
It's hard to think of any pitcher who has come back to any significant success after a year as bad as Cone's; guys have had bad or injury-riddled years, but a 6.91 ERA in 155 innings is an awful lot of awfully awful pitching. And he didn't really have a major injury last year; anything that was wrong with Cone physically last season is still wrong with him. Tom Seaver bounced back from a dreadful 1982 (5.50 ERA in 111.1 innings), but that season wasn't quite as bad and Seaver was suffering from a back injury. Also, he was younger. About the only example that comes to mind is Robin Roberts, who was 1-10 with a 5.85 ERA in 117 IP in 1961, and rebounded to four more years of good pitching that stretched his career win total from 234 to 286.
Probably the most similar situation I can think of is Jeff Fassero, who entered last season with many of the same problems Cone has - Fassero had suffered more from a loss of location and movement than velocity, but it was the same sudden wrong turn into a batting tee. After a few touches of Joe Kerrigan magic, Fassero wasn't useless last season, with an ERA better than the league average, but he didn't have the stamina to finish 6 innings and he lost steam as the season went on.
Cone just looked done last season -- he doesn't have the heat anymore and struggled with his command. The new strike zone won't help him, because he doesn't have the high hard one anymore and nibbling at the edges will be harder with a narrower zone. I won't be stunned if Cone throws 120 innings, reels off a few wins in a row and has an ERA a shade under five, a la Fassero and Schourek last season. But I'll be shocked if he stays the season in the rotation and has an ERA below 4.50. It's far more likely that the Cone retirement press conference will be before the end of June.
There are actually people out there who think David Cone is a "traitor" for taking his 6.91 ERA to the Red Sox (not kidding; listen to WFAN if you donít believe me). More like a double agent, I'd say, and anyway if Cone is a traitor at all he has been one since the day he put on Yankee pinstripes. Did the Yankees give him his first rotation spot after seven years in the minor leagues? Did the Yankees stick by Cone when he was accused (falsely) or rape the night before his 19-K game and accused of exposing himself in the bullpen (the only obscene act I can remember Cone performing was in a 1990 game against the Braves when he inserted his head completely into his rectum, holding the baseball to argue with an umpire while two runs scored)? Or when he turned in 3 straight disappointing 14-win seasons on contending teams? Or antagonized the opposing team in print before a big playoff start, in which he got hammered?
Anyway, surprise, surprise, Cone is a mercenary. He was one of the union leaders during the 1994 strike, remember? It's not like he's never been a free agent . . . I like Cone, actually, but this is not a new phenomenon with him. Live with it. And remember the Cone-bashing next time a Yankee fan claims to be above the whole Yanks-Sox rivalry. Cone had the best perspective on the whole thing, when he explained last week that he signed with the Red Sox to stay in the Sox-Yankees rivalry, adding, "I'd rather be booed than forgotten."
Actually, the Red Sox played a crucial but now-largely-forgotten role in Cone's development as a starting pitcher. In April 1987, with Dwight Gooden in rehab, Davey Johnson made an ill-fated decision to go to a four-man rotation. Bob Ojeda hurt his arm almost immediately, and the Mets were down to three starters. Cone had pitched brilliantly in relief (a 2.79 ERA to that point), flashing the curveball the scouts had raved about to strike out Jack Clark and Dale Murphy in key situations, so Davey decided to stick him in the rotation. This was not a smashing success; Cone got hammered in his first two starts. He looked terrified and couldn't find the plate. The Mets needed him, but it looked like Cone would have to be sent back to the pen because he was too nervous to handle the pressure of starting.
Enter the Sox. In 1987, for the second year in a row, the Mets and Red Sox played an in-season exhibition game to benefit the Jimmy Fund (the game was discontinued after this, presumably because Red Sox fans never wanted to see the Mets again). This time it was in early May. Picking a starting pitcher to waste on exhibition games is always an adventure, but there was a lot of speculation that Davey would use the low-pressure forum of an exhibition to get Gooden tuned up. Instead, he started Cone. Freed of the pressure of starting a regulation game, Cone settled down and pitched well, and went on to reel off several more good outings before he had the pinky on his pitching hand crushed by a pitch while trying to bunt. The following year, Cone entered the rotation full-time following an injury to Rick Aguilera, and with the help of the new strike zone vaulted to 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA. A star was born - thanks in part to the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund game.
RED SOX OUTLOOK:
Unless something really surprising happens, a team with this many weaknesses canít win 98 games. But 90-93 wins is a distinct possibility, and that could be enough to win the division if the Sox fare well in head-to-heads with the Yankees. That alone, by the way, is good reason to keep Daubach and either OíLeary or Burkhart in the lineup against right-handers: you need lefty power to win in Yankee Stadium, and need lots of lefthanded hitters to beat Clemens, Mussina and Hernandez.
Iíll do predictions as we get closer to Opening Day. But February is an optimistic time, and the important thing is that the Sox are plenty good enough to support the dreams that make spring training exciting.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"There's a best way to throw, there's another way to pitch. The best way to throw isn't always the best way to pitch. You can make a guy throw better, but all of a sudden, the ball's straight and he can't get anybody out."
¬ę Close It
February 16, 2001
BASEBALL: 2001 Red Sox Preview Part I
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
Pitchers and catchers ... pitchers and catchers ... pitchers and catchers ...
It?s time to start preparing for 2001. I?ll start by looking ahead to the 101st edition of the Boston Red Sox, the 90th season at Fenway Park, and the Sox? 83rd season in pursuit of their sixth ... well, you know.
Introductory note: For each player with significant major league exposure in the past three seasons, I will run an ?established performance level.? EPL is a very simple way of combining the past three seasons into a weighted average that gives the past season greatest weight. For example, Manny Ramirez smacked 45, 44 and 38 homers the last 3 years, so his EPL is ((38 x 3) + (44 x 2) + (45))/6 = 41 (rounded off). In other words, Manny enters this season as an established 41-homer guy. Pretty simple.
I prefer to look at EPL rather than the "projected stats" from outfits like STATS Inc. or the Baseball Prospectus, since an EPL is a historical fact while projections sometimes fool you into thinking that they are scientific. The events most likely to occur in the future can be predicted, after all; the actual future is always unknown. Also, the BP projections in particular tend to assume that young players won?t have an adjustment period entering the majors, and I was stupid enough to rely on those projections in drafting Eric Chavez for my rotisserie team in 1999 and Matt LeCroy in 2000. Keep tinkering, guys.
For Part One of this preview -- the offense -- I?ll run age, batting/slugging/on base percentage for each hitter, plus whatever else fits the particular player. (I'm only running totals for a few players because for some of these guys this includes seasons, like Varitek?s 1998, when they didn?t play regularly. In those cases the low G/AB totals should indicate that the player's experience is limited).
Read More ¬Ľ
If Boston's goal was to maximize the number of veterans in their prime ? guys between 27 and 31 ? this roster certainly gets them there. Of the 15 major everyday and bench players, none are younger than 27, one (Offerman) is 32, and three of the four guys over 32 are likely to ride a lot of pine. Of the 13 pitchers with significant big league experience, only one (Okha) is younger than 28 while three (Wakefield, Cone and Saberhagen) admit to being over 32.
In other words, this is a team designed to be ready to contend now but have just a 2-3 year window to win before everyone is on the wrong side of 30.
Varitek?s second-half flameout was one of the single largest reasons why the 2000 Sox missed the playoffs. As you see from the numbers above, his 3-year picture shows someone who's a decent enough hitter for a catcher... but not among the league?s elite like Jorge Posada and Darrin Fletcher (Pudge is on another level). Varitek?s defenders point to injuries as the reason, but catching injuries tend to recur; the pounding behind the plate doesn?t let up. Varitek might still have a .280-20 HR season in him if he stay healthy, but it seems like his role is to hit at the bottom of the order and prevent a hole from opening at catcher ? still a valuable role, but not a starring one.
It makes sense to work Hatteberg into the lineup more often, since Hatteberg is basically a known quantity at this point (and a slightly better hitter than Varitek). The knock on Hatteberg has always been his throwing, but Varitek was a disaster on that front as well; only the Mets were robbed blind by base thieves worse than the Sox last season. The pitching staff didn?t help that; Hideo Nomo's arrival will only make the problem worse.
Varitek was one part of the failure of guys who the Sox counted on; Offerman was the other. At 32, Offerman basically lost it as a base thief and he?s no longer an elite leadoff hitter. But he IS the Red Sox? leadoff man -- they need at least a .375 OBP and a full season of at bats from Offerman. I suspect he has one more solid year left.
Offerman?s defense has never been as bad as it looks. With Mike Lansing in the latter stages of rigor mortis, the Sox don?t really have another option here, anyway.
Baseball?s second-best shortstop must be thinking about the $19 million a year salary for baseball?s third-best . . . I may get to the raging debate on the Three Shortstops soon, but SG more than covered it for this week.
The consensus ? supported by his defensive stats ? was that Nomar had slipped a bit in the field last season. He?s still a good shortstop, and sometimes guys suffer an off year in the field just like at the bat. Declining home run power is another issue, but Nomar?s 51 doubles last year suggest bad luck more than anything else; he certainly hit the ball well enough.
Nomar led the AL in intentional walks last season; if he bats ahead of Manny -- which he should -- that's extremely unlikely to happen again. One of the funniest lines of the offseason had to be when Jimy Williams said that he hadn?t decided where Everett, Garciaparra and Ramirez would bat, but once he made up his mind, he felt it was very important that they get used to batting in the same place every night.
Yup, that?s Jimy Williams, a man who hates to mess with the lineup card . . .
--John Valentin (34) - .252/.406/.323
I'm assuming that Stynes probably has the everyday third base job, with Valentin coming off the bench as the utility infielder (now that Manny "the Body" Alexander has been given his walking papers). Stynes hit .348, .254, .239, and .334 the last four years; while it's impressive to hit over .330 twice in any context, he is obviously neither a .330 hitter nor a .250 hitter. The EPL above is probably a fair estimate of what he can do in 400 at bats, and another way of saying the same thing is that he hit .288 in 545 at bats in 1997-98 and .312 in 493 at bats in 1999-2000. Playing everyday may wear him down further - Stynes is a hustling, aggressive player, the type that sometimes burns out over a full season. And he can actually do a little of everything else besides hit for average - he runs well, will hit a ton of doubles in Fenway, and draws the occasional walk. As long as they keep his legs fresh, Stynes should give them what Bill Mueller gave the Giants last year - no star power, but a guy who fills a key gap. And a vast improvement over Wilton Veras.
Valentin? I'm not so optimistic about him -- he was on his way down even before the injury. But he remains popular and can at least nominally fill in at several positions. Even playing a declining Valentin everyday would be an improvement over last season.
The best hitter in baseball, period. I?m assuming Ramirez plays right, although since 1) he?s a constant adventure in the field (his defensive stats were atrocious last year, although he was playing on a bad leg) and 2) he's going to be around until he?s old and slow, it would probably make sense to wean him on left field from Day One. If I were an optimist, I?d say he will outlast the Green Monster... but don?t bet on it.
By the way, am I the only one who noticed this? Compare Manny?s 2000 to ?Player X?:
Player X is Babe Ruth, 1922... the following season, Ruth batted .393, drove in 131 runs, scored 151 and set the walk record. The year after that, he won the batting title and smacked 46 home runs. What?s funny in this comparison is that Ruth didn?t draw a single MVP vote even though his team won the pennant, while Ramirez drew significant support (granted they had some odd rules then; Ruth may have been ineligible or the voters were upset at his early-season suspension for barnstorming).
Anyway, Manny Ramirez isn?t Babe Ruth, but anyone who can play hurt and post numbers that stack up to a healthy Ruth in his prime... well, that?s a hitter. And it wasn?t even Ramirez? best year.
Range factors aren't always as reliable a defensive measure for outfielders as infielders -- because of the as-yet-undetermined extent of park effects -- but a guy who finishes at the bottom of the league just isn?t making many plays. Carl Everett was dead last among major league centerfielders in making plays last season; in 1999 (playing in the Astrodome in front of a totally different pitching staff), he finished ahead of only ESPN analyst Brian McRae. Everett runs well, but he?s a powerfully built guy who?s likely to slow down in his thirties; if the Sox had another option he?d be better suited for right. An outfield with Ramirez in right and Everett in center is going to give up a lot of singles and doubles.
If you are looking for the Achilles heel of the 2001 Sox offense, look at the EPL in Games for Offerman (missing 28 games), Garciaparra (missing 23 games), Ramirez (missing 29 games) and Everett (missing 30 games). This offense looks wonderful on paper, but so did the Sox in the 70s who never seemed to keep Lynn, Fisk, Evans and Hobson healthy at once. It?s also why they need a deep bench, which they only sort of have (and the bench will suffer even more if one of the outfielders gets dealt).
Sometimes you get the breaks; Bernie Williams suddenly got healthy in 1999 after years of nagging injuries. But the Sox need to have their four best hitters change their injury-riddled (and Jimy-benched) ways all at once. And they need it with the luck of the Red Sox, not of the Yankees. That?s a tough act.
LEFT FIELD/ FIRST BASE/ DESIGNATED HITTER
--Troy O?Leary (31) - .269/.454/.327
--Dante Bichette (37) - .302/.507/.352
--Morgan Burkhart (29): .261/502/.401 last year between Pawtucket and Boston (including 16 HBP)
--Izzy Alcantara (28) ? .300/.658/.365 in 380 AB's at Pawtucket in the last two years.
Here?s where things get sticky. Daubach and O'Leary represent the best side of Dan Duquette - a GM who liberates veteran minor league hitters and uses them as low-cost alternatives to proven mediocrities. Alcantara and Burkhart are these kinds of players too, although Burkhart's minor league track record is hard to figure.
The problem is this: good hitters who are stuck in the minors are often there for a reason, and if you load up your roster with guys who can't hit lefthanders, can't run, can't field, have no common sense, and/or have attitude problems, pretty soon you have a chronic problem on your hands. Also, if (as with O'Leary) you keep these guys around too long, they wind up turning into the same expensive mediocrities they were hired to replace.
In my opinion, both Daubach and O'Leary should be platooned at this point in their careers. Both have established beyond any doubt that they can't hit lefthanders. Last season, both were ineffective overall, but Daubach's averages were .257/.468/.326 against righthanded pitching (closer to being useful, and his 1999 was great), and even O'Leary's were .265/.429/.331. (Unfortunately we have Duquette telling the media that O?Leary has ?proven? his ability to play everyday and Nixon hasn?t).
There has been a curious hesitancy in recent years to rely on platoons, particularly with these types of players. Fifteen years ago platoon arrangements were all the rage, with Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson and Davey Johnson platooning at multiple positions (remember Mulliniks/Iorg and Backman/Teufel?) Today Cox and Johnson hardly platoon at all. I haven't studied the issue but it seems that very few teams anymore use fixed righty/lefty platoons at any position. When they do, it's often to platoon younger lefthanded hitters, like Trot Nixon, Corey Koskie, and Brian Giles (in Cleveland). This may be a decent strategy for rookies, but young, developing players, particularly those with star-quality hitting talent, need and can benefit from the chance to be everyday players. We've seen many examples of guys like Giles, Paul O'Neill and Lenny Dykstra who became stars when they were traded to teams that played them every day.
It's hard to explain why this has happened, particularly at a time when most managers are obsessed with left/right matchups in the way they use relief pitchers and pinch hitters. Perhaps the very fact that everyone has effective counter-measures available has frightened managers into thinking they could be the next Cox after the Blue Jays' platoons were decimated by Dick Howser's right-left-right switches in the 1985 ALCS. Perhaps, with more teams carrying 12 pitchers, managers are more determined than ever to divide their teams into everyday players and flexible bench players, rather than carrying two guys for one job. But platoons can have tremendous value in keeping fading older players fresh and turning a pair of below-average hitters into cheap, league-average solutions (Don Baylor is headed in the right direction with his idea of platooning Matt Stairs and Ron Coomer, although Coomer is on the Mike Lansing career track). And the Red Sox are clearly in need of such solutions at a few positions.
My preference would be to see Daubach and a righthander platoon at first, and Nixon play every day in whichever outfield corner Manny Ramirez doesn't occupy. An O'Leary/Bichette platoon at DH would probably be a good baseball decision, but it would seem that the Sox have fallen into the trap of thinking that Bichette is actually a good everyday player (he's really quite similar to O'Leary as a hitter at sea level) and in any event his ego has had too many 130-RBI seasons to accept being the righthanded half of a platoon.
The other problem is, who platoons with Daubach? From what I understand, Burkhart is a better hitter lefthanded than righthanded, and the only other alternative is to play either Bichette or Izzy at first base. (In theory you could do a 2-position platoon with Lansing playing second against lefties and Offerman at first, but Casey Stengel's success with the 50s Yankees notwithstanding, you need a really clear benefit to the offense to make a 2-position platoon worth the cost in defensive instability, and Lansing looks like he's just plain finished.)
Given the need for a righthanded bat to match up with the lefthanders (including Nixon - there's always the possibility that you reach August and he's hitting .150 against lefthanders, in which case his future development has to take a back seat to the pennant race), it seems like a great idea to bring back Alcantara for another spin - IF AND ONLY IF Jimy Williams has agreed to it. Izzy's minor league stats are pretty convincing ? in addition to his AAA stats, Alcantara has hit well at every stop since 1996, and if you can slug .658 at Pawtucket (never a hitter's haven) you can hit major league pitching.
The problem, of course, is that Dizzy Izzy doesn't hustle, can't play the outfield and is a hazard on the basepaths; Jimy's refusal to play him last season almost led to his resignation while Alcantara's presence on the roster badly undermined Jimy's authority. This can still be a positive situation if Jimy agreed to it, because Izzy will be coming into spring training knowing he has to prove himself to a skeptical manager to win a roster spot. And he should obviously be kept out of the outfield at all costs.
The best way to break the logjam and fill the gaps is probably to trade Bichette for a righthanded first baseman so that O'Leary and Izzy can platoon at DH. This won't happen, since nobody wants Bichette's contract, so the Sox instead are actively shopping O'Leary (reportedly the Mets, who have about 12 relief pitchers and two outfielders, have been in talks about O'Leary). That probably spells doom for Alcantara and everyday jobs for Bichette and either Daubach or Burkhart.
Burkhart, I'd love to see get a shot - he's patient, has power, and gets hit by lots of pitches. He MIGHT be better than any of the others except Nixon. But it's hard to say if he's going to pan out as a major league regular... and the Sox aren't really in a position to be patient.
I didn?t mention him above, but Lewis hit lefties well last season and can still cover some ground, albeit not the way he used to. But giving him 300 at bats is lunacy, and at 33 he?s on the way down.
If the Duke wants to send the players a message that he?s serious about winning, he should cut Lansing and admit that the team was willing to eat his salary to help the rotation all along. Whoever bats behind him will lead off a lot of innings.
And there are a handful of health questions; there isn?t one guy here I could be sure will play 150 games, with the exception of Bichette. The Sox will score at least 100-200 more runs than last year?s 12th place finish; they should outscore the Yankees as long as the big guns stay reasonably healthy. But that defense looks scary. And I?m not sure the offense can carry all the holes in the pitching staff.
But that's another story for another time. Until next week...
ANSWER TO LAST WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION
¬ę Close It
February 3, 2001
BASEBALL: IN DEFENSE OF THE BANDWAGON
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
There are few phrases that enrage dedicated sports fans faster than "bandwagon fans." Nearly all of us have faced the appalling spectacle of watching our favorite team go down in flames in a tight, crucial game, only to be taunted by some blowhard who couldn't have named two players on the winning team two years ago. Remember all those people with the Michael Jordan jerseys? How many of them do you think could pick Elton Brand and Ron Mercer out of a police lineup? Hey, where'd all the Rams fans go?
Here in the Big Apple, we have long held a reputation as the bandwagon capital of the world. Never having been to LA, I will have to accept that as true, because we certainly have the evidence. How many "Yankee fans" have ever heard of Oscar Azocar, Alvaro Espinoza, or Dave LaPoint? When I was in grammar school I was the only Mets fan in my class. I can remember trading baseball cards - in those days you could do this unsupervised in a schoolyard without calling your broker and checking the price of Ken Griffey on the CNBC ticker - and discovering that you could get an NL All-Star and half the Mets roster for one Yankee. When I was in high school (1985-89), strangely enough, there were plenty of Mets fans. Where'd they come from?
Read More ¬Ľ
The Mets drew about 800,000 fans a year in the late 70s (I guess that means they were a "small market" team then, but that's another day's issue); by 1986 it was over 3 million. Jim Baker, a Mets fan who used to work for Bill James, has a nice description on Rob Neyer's website of the frustration this created for long-time Mets fans. That meant plenty of people who cheered on Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling who didn't remember Kevin Kobel, Scott Holman, Mardie Cornejo and the day Mark Bomback gave up a home run to Pedro Guerrero that broke the windshield of Bomback's car in the Shea Stadium parking lot.
Boston fans who haven't lived here can't fathom the impact of this. I mean, at least in Boston, the fans are either full-fledged hometowners or such obvious bandwagon fans that they have no credibility. Losing a heartbreaker and having to eventually face people from another city is one thing; living with the bandwagon is another.
But there are two types of bandwagon fans. One is the frontrunner Ė the fan who switches gleefully from team to team, always in search of associating himself with a winner. The other is the fan who just doesnít pay as much attention when the team is losing. To a certain extent we are all that way, even if only to the point of being less emotionally invested in each individual game when the team is going nowhere. Iíve never been a team-switcher, but I will admit that in football and to some extent basketball, my interest in the Giants and Knicks wanes when the teamís not very good. There is little in life more dull and depressing than rooting for a bad, boring football team.
The Subway Series, of course, was the true frontrunner's nightmare - two basically evenly matched teams from the same city, and the absolute necessity of taking sides in advance. Most of the bandwagon fans had been on the Yankee bus since at least 1998, and there they stayed. After all, if they lost they could still yell about all the other world championships, Yankee tradition blah blah blah. It even spilled over into politics, where Rudy Giuliani's withdrawal from the Senate race left us with a lifelong Mets fan from the Island running against a newly declared Yankee fan from the suburbs of Chicago (and by the way, how can anyone be both a Cubs fan and a Yankee fan? I understand the appeal of one or the other, but rooting for both is like saying your two favorite historical figures are John D. Rockefeller and Gandhi).
Thinking about the Senate race, though, brought another thought to mind: undecided voters. You see, most people, like me, who have strong political opinions find perennially undecided voters maddening; we canít understand why they canít see the major philosophical differences between the two sides.
But you know what? Our political system is better off for having undecided voters; for the same reason, our sports teams are better off for bandwagon fans. One-party governments, of course, are famous for their corruption and unresponsiveness to the people. Hey, why bother? For the baseball equivalent, you need look no further than Chicago. No matter how bad they are, the Cubs draw. They make money. No matter how good they are, the White Sox donít draw as much. They just arenít the cash cow the Cubs are. The consequence? Remember, Boston Ė with one baseball team since 1953 Ė has won the World Series more recently than Chicago, with two. Chicago
Why is this? Coincidence? Partly. The curse on a city whose team threw the World Series? Maybe. But the refusal of Cubs fans to even stay home once in a while from Wrigley means that IT JUST DOESNíT MATTER if the Cubs win. I wonít stop following the Mets, but I have to consider it my duty as a fan to stay home from the park sometimes if my team is being run poorly. Management needs to have a message sent sometimes.
So... feel free to scorn frontrunners and scoff at the fans who didnít suffer through bad times. But remember this as well: like the undecided voters, we need these people.
¬ę Close It