Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP
In 2008 Matsuzaka wowed us with an 18-3 record and a 2.90 ERA. Since then, he's been beyond disappointing, making only 12 starts in 2009 due to injury and posting a 9-6 record and 4.69 ERA in 25 starts in 2010 due to more injuries and ineffectiveness.
Dice-K throws a variety of pitches, so my first guess was that he was throwing something too often or too little in relation to his first two years in the MLB, but a quick look at Fangraphs.com showed that he has been very consistent with his pitch selection over his 4-year MLB career.
What I did notice was an increase in contact outside of the strike zone. In 2008, batters only swung at pitches outside the zone 20% of the time. In 2010 it was up to 29%. Similarly, batters have mad more contact on pitches outside of the zone as well, up from 55% in 2007 to 71% in 2010.
With 3 1/2 years worth of video, batters appear to figured Matsuzaka out. They know he likes to nibble around the plate, so they're waiting for him to throw a strike or swinging at pitches they know they can hit - even if they're balls. The result has been an steady increase in contact, up from 77% on 2007 to 83% in 2010, and a drop in Ks per 9, down from 8.84 to 7.79.
Bottom Line: I think injuries played their role in Dice-K's ineffectiveness over the past two seasons, but if he can make a serious effort to be more aggressive and throw his fastball more often, I think he can get back to winning games and lasting more than 5 innings per start. That said, Matsuzaka has proven to be injury prone and stubborn in his approach, so don't expect big changes in 2011.
Rob's Prediction: 26 GS, 156 IP, 11 Wins, 8 losses, 4.04 ERA, 145 K
* Special Category: Walks - 70
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“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - such is the rhythm of living.”
In life everything changes and baseball is no different. When the 2011 season starts in just 59 days, Red Sox fans will have a few changes to adjust to. While the starting rotation will be relatively the same, the bullpen has added two new faces in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have been added to the line-up for a serious jolt of speed and power, respectively.
It will be a pleasant change having Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis back after missing them for most of last season due to injury. After 575 games at first base it will be an adjustment seeing Youk at third every day. Not that the 31-year old player is totally inexperienced on the other side of the diamond. He’s played 219 games there in the majors as well as spending time there while in the minors.
In edition to personnel changes, Fenway itself has undergone some modifications this off season. There are new seats in the right-field lower seating bowl. Concrete repairs have been made. There are three new high-definition video boards to keep fans informed during the game. The most noticeable change is to Gate D which is now ramped and features a new concourse.
While this year’s changes to the Red Sox and Fenway Park are recognizable, they are not earth-shattering by any means. Imagine what it was like for fans going from the 1911 season to 1912. The Huntington Avenue Grounds (home of the Sox from 1901-1911) had just 11,500 seats and a center field that measured a mind-boggling 635 feet. When Fenway Park opened April 20, 1912, over three times as many fans (35,000) could take a seat. Center field must have seemed so small at only 488 feet deep.
There is one thing that has never and will never change regarding the Red Sox and that is expectation. Every year, whether it is a “bridge year” or not, they are expected to do well. The love and fervor of the team’s fans has not diminished. That is why they have America’s oldest and most loved ballpark as well as the longest running sold-out streak. It’s good to be the Red Sox and it’s good to be a Red Sox fan.
And that is one thing that will never change.no comments
I said to my son when I sat down to write, “I don’t know what the heck to write about for tomorrow.”
His answer was the sage, “Well there isn’t squat going on!”
Truer words have not been spoken. I perused the Globe and Heraldto see what was they were talking about. Mazz was writing earlier in the week about the resurgent Sox reclaiming Boston as a baseball town and reminiscing about yesteryear when Spring Training was ignored in favor of the Celtics and Bruins playoff runs. Nick Cafardo ruminated on the possibilities of Clay Bucholtz elevating his game another notch to the realm of Sabathia/Halladay/Fernandez. Over at the Herald, John Tomase was basking in the glory of being the AL East frontrunners – at least if you listen to Brian Cashman. If these pros were having a tough time finding interesting fodder, what was a shmoe like me to do?
So sixteen days left until spring training and all is quiet. Questions remain on the roster, of course. Is Salty the catcher for 2011? Will the pitching staff be able to pitch to form (see Rob’s entry from yesterday) – 2010 form for Bucholtz and Lester and 2008/9 form for Beckett and Lackey? What the heck are we going to see from Dice-K and where does Wake fit in? Is Scutaro going to be age defying at short or does Lowrie need to get his shot? What will become of Ellsbury now that he’s back and healthy for the season? Does Ortiz HAVE to spot the rest of the league 10 home runs and 20 RBIs before he heats up? Does the reconstituted bullpen have what it takes to keep the drama out of the later innings?
Plenty of questions. The fun part is going to be getting the answers. By May we’ll know some. Ortiz’ start will be quantified and we’ll start getting a sense of the starting pitching and the bullpen. By the time we hit June, we’ll know if Salty is a hit or miss and how solid short is. By the All-Star break it’ll all be coming together – or falling apart. Then the stretch run will determine if the Sox will pull away, have stayed healthy and if the Yankees did enough to stay atop the division. Interesting sidebar will be to see how the two former idiots (Ramirez and Damon) will fare in Tampa as the season wears on.
Answers will be forthcoming and in about three weeks we’ll have column ideas falling out of our butts. Until then, we’ll have to see what we can come up with!
Regardless of his recent struggles, we've been spoiled with an elite closer for five years now and it's strange to imagine seeing some random reliever trotting in from right field in the 9th. But after this season, it's anyone's guess who will be closing games here in Boston, so I wanted to see how important a quality closer really is, in relation to making the World Series.
Below is a chart featuring the four teams that made it to the ALCS and NLCS since 2005. The chart also shows us the closer for those teams, their save percentage and MLB rank, the team's overall bullpen ERA and MLB rank, the team's total saves and blown saves... and finally, the team's total ERA and rank (this includes starters).
The stat that many pointed to when discussing Papelbon's struggles in 2010 was his save percentage. Paps blew a career high 8 saves last year and his 82.2 SV % ranked 24th among 30 qualifying closers... not good. But consider this: The average SV% of the closers listed below is 86.7%... which tells me your team can still be successful, even if your closer isn't performing as well as you would like.
Take Jason Isringhause in 2006. The Cardinals won the World Series with a 76.7 SV%, good for 25th in the league.
But, to be fair, that's "cherry picking." In reality, four of the last six World Series winners had a closer than ranked in the top six in save percentage, so while you can make the playoffs with an average closer, teams with an elite closer tend to win when it matters most.
And while your closer plays a large role in the performance of you bullpen, it usually takes at least one or two other relievers to close out a game, so having quality setup men is important also. In fact, the average bullpen ERA below was 3.57 and the average MLB rank was 7, so you could argue that your having a quality bullpen is more vital to your success than just haviong a good closer.
Looking at this from one more angle, I wanted to see how the starting pitchers factor in. They typcially pitch 6 of the 9 innings in after all...
Last year, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series with the top ranked pitching staff and the 2nd best bullpen and a top flight closer. That would explain how they wer able to beat the Phillies and Rangers - teams that featured solid pitchers, but much better offenses.
Overall, the teams listed below posted an average team ERA of 3.90, which works out to an average MLB rank of 6.8. That tells me that having quality starters, along with a quality bullpen, will get you far in the postseason... but that's kind of obvious, right?
So what's more important: Your starters or your bullpen?
Based on what we've discussed so far, I'd say your starters are the most important piece, but the chart below proves that a quality bullpen is more important than a quality closer. Just look at the 2007 Indians, who made the ALCS despite Joe Borowski (8 BS, 5.07 ERA) thanks to guys like Rafael Bentancourt (1.47 ERA, 31 HLD, 68 G) and Rafael Perez (1.78 ERA, 44 G).
If you believe that, as I do, then you should feel pretty good about Theo Epstein's decisions this winter.
He locked up a solid starting five last winter and with Papelbon on the verge of free agency, he made a serious push to strengthen the bullpen, by signing Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler (among others) to help Daniel Bard in the 7th and 8th.
Bottom Line: Jenks and Bard could play huge roles in 2010, especially if Papelbon continues to struggle or is traded at the All-Star break, but going forward I think the Sox need to think about finding another elite closer. Maybe Bard is that guy. Maybe they make a run at a guy like Matt Capps (27) or Johnathan Broxton (27) next winter.
They don't grow on trees, but recent history suggests that an elite closer is worth his weight in gold in October... regardless of how good the rest of your team is.
I expected great things from the 2010 rotation. So much so, that I predicted they'd be the best rotation since the Braves of the 90's.
Lester was great and Buchholz' potential was finally realized... but Lackey's 14-11, 4.40 ERA line was not inspiring, Matsuzaka was a mess, and Beckett was a disaster.
If the Red Sox want a real shot at another World Series, they'll need Josh Beckett to bring his "A-game" in 2011. With Lester establishing himself as the new ace of the staff, I don't think we need "2007 Josh Beckett," but it would be nice to see him make 30 starts, win 15+ games and show some signs of dominance.
Last year, Beckett struggled with injuries (again) and it clear effected his performance. Even when he came off the DL in the 2nd half, he posted a 6.03 ERA in August and a 4.50 ERA in September. He struggled with his command and my guess is the back was still bothering him - see the 14 homers and .296 BAA in his last 11 starts.
If healthy, I expect Beckett to be able to mix up his picthes a little better, which should keep batters on their toes and make his fastball tougher to hit.
I expected to see an increase in fastballs thrown when looking at his 2010 stats, but Beckett only used the fastball 55% of the time last year - a career low. In 2007, when he dominated everyone, he threw "The Ole' Number One" 63% of the time and he's averaged 65% fastballs since joining the Red Sox. The key difference in 2010 was that he compensated with the cut fastball. Until 2010, Beckett rarely, if ever, used the cuutter... but he thre it 15% of the time last season.
He also used his curveball less (18%, down from 25% in 2009), which is harder to "snap off" if your back or legs are hurt or your motion to the plate isn't working right... so it seems pretty clear to me that Beckett's 2010 season was simply ruined by injury.
Back in September, ex-pitching coach John Farrell told the Boston Herald that Beckett's struggles were not injury related, but rather due to a lack of confidence:
"There’s going to be a point in time when he’s got to pitch out of a jam. He’s done that in the past rather than saying, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again,’ and then, the results end up being what the thought is - that something bad’s going to happen."
I don't doubt Farrell's analysis, but I still think that Beckett either a) wasn't fully healthy, or b) he was, but the injuries messed with him mentally and his mechanics suffered.
Bottom Line: With a full winter to shake that off, I expect him to come to camp ready to make up for a disappointing 2010 (just like his did after 2006), but what I hope to see is a lean, mean, pitching-machine, thanks to a serious strength and conditioning workout... and not this guy.
I don't expect 20 wins and 2.00 ERA, but with a strong back and renewed confidence, I see Beckett joining Lester and Buchholz to create the "Fearsome Threesome" that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
I, along with many others, bought Red Sox tickets today! I decided beforehand that given the fact that it will be my 30th birthday this summer I’d splurge and get Loge box seats. I got into the virtual waiting room and was in second place in line which wasn’t bad. I bought the Pre-Sale pack level of Red Sox Nation and didn’t quite know what to expect. When it was my turn to buy I was alerted by the blissful sounds of the opening piano chords of Tessie and my heart skipped a beat. I selected the date and seating level and clicked continue. It showed that I’d be in row AA. The first row of the section! I was thrilled until I noticed the little red warning message. The problem with the front row of this section is that people are walking past you. I hemmed and hawed. I selected a different level, but I really had my heart set on Loge. I even selected a different day but Loge box gave me the same message. I went ahead and bought them for my original day. I hope I won’t regret it.
This experience got me thinking about the other Red Sox games I’ve attended both home and away. I seem to have the knack for getting the worst seat in a good section. Last year around my birthday I sat in section 29. Great section. But I ended up in the last row which meant I couldn’t see the big video board. With a little bending I could see the pitch count at least.
Then I traveled to Baltimore to check out New Camden Yards. I was excited to be sitting high up behind home plate in the first row of the section 334. The problem with this was the railing in front of me was exactly at eye level. I had to slouch or sit up extra straight. (I guess I should have been listening to my mother’s advice about posture all these years!) Unfortunately the railing wasn’t the only challenge. We were near the base of a stair case so people tended to stop near the bottom to wait for others to catch up. Standing where they did completely blocked our view and more than once we had to ask them to move.
This is what makes me so worried about my upcoming trip to Fenway. I won’t be near stairs so hopefully people won’t be standing still, but I do worry about the foot traffic. But really it doesn’t matter. No seat is really a bad one as long as it is in Fenway! Even the uncomfortable 1934 seats in the Grandstands are like a big comfy recliner compared to watching the game from home!no comments
This past weekend the New York/Boston rivalry gathered steam. The Sox/Yankee rivalry of the last century has finally spilled over into football. The J-E-T-S took our Pats out to the woodshed and administered quite a beating. In an interesting twist, the Patriots played the part of the seasoned, buttoned down veterans with a winning pedigree while the Jets played the role of ‘idiot’ upstarts. I think they overacted the role, but that’s my own personal opinion.
So how did this rivalry begin? I blame the British. Back in 1774 the Crown instructed that the rebellious colony of Massachusetts be taught a lesson and ordered the closing of the Port of Boston. The impact was immediate with the prime beneficiary being the burgeoning port city of New York. After the Revolution, Boston was never able to fully recover while New York became the epicenter of trade and commerce that continues to this day.
In the region encircling New York City, natives talk about heading into The City. There is no question where they are talking about. Even in southern New Jersey when folks say that they are heading into The City you never think Philadelphia, you think New York. The City has a great vibe. You’ll never be at a loss for things to do and The City truly never sleeps. Her neighborhoods are large and have the ability to stand alone – islands in the river of bustle. It’s big and impersonal and can also swallow you whole if you let it. It’s a wonderful place to visit, though I don’t think I’d want to live there.
In New England we talk about heading into Town. Boston population is close to two million yet to us it’s Town. There is a familiarity and closeness to Boston that NYC doesn’t have. You walk the streets and you feel like you get to know Boston. Her neighborhoods integrate seamlessly into the fabric of the Town. She speaks to you and holds you close. Its relative small size allows her large university population to influence the feel of the city. She’s a grande dame with a young heart.
Over the years our Sox have played the role of nail to the Yankee’s hammer. It was a long run of frustration. We all lived it at one point or another: 30 year droughts between World Series appearances; Bucky F. Dent; Aaron F. Boone and everything in between. The 21stCentury has been different and perhaps this year can further turn the tables. Diametrically opposed to this has been the run of futility of the Jets in relation to the Patriots. Should the Jets manage to win this weekend they head to the Super Bowl for the first time since Broadway Joe led them to a win in 1969. In the interim the Pats have been to six Super Bowls, winning three – a unique turn of fortune for the two cities. The rivalry has been taken to a new level. The tumult and hype surrounding the Celtics trip to Madison Square Garden earlier this season could possibly add another dimension over time.
While all the Boston/New York hype allegedly turns off the rest of the country, they can’t help watching as indicated by the ratings garnered by Pats/Jets and Sox/Yanks games. We may be the Hub of the Universe and they may be the Greatest City in the World, but as ‘frenemies’, we’re obviously must see TV for the entire country. They should try living in the middle of it!
Life of a Fan
A former student of mine wrote the above pledge and I think it’s great! He hung it up on the eastern wall of the classroom so when you looked at it you’d be facing toward Boston. (A little extreme? Maybe, but I thought it was cute.) I was tempted to make the kids recite it every day along with the real pledge, but that might have been over the top.
But whenever and however possible I did encourage my students to like the Red Sox as opposed to that “other team.” I covered my desk in Red Sox photos and pages from Red Sox calendars. I brought in cookies when the Sox made the playoffs. I even took the some of the kids to a Red Sox game while we were in Boston on a class trip. After the trip one of the moms who had come along to chaperone told me that she had had no baseball affiliation before but now she checked the scores to see how the Sox are doing! I guess you could say I am very “evangelical” in my fandom. I always told the kids who were Yankees fans that any time they came to the light that Red Sox Nation would welcome them with open arms.
I know you might be thinking that I encouraged “band wagoners” and “pink hats.” But my defense is this: not everyone can be born in New England. Some of us have to support from afar. And is every Yankees fan living in the five boroughs? No. The Evil Empire unfortunately extends far beyond the Bronx. (It’s funny because I’ve had people tell me that because I live in New York state I should like the Yankees. There are two problems with this line of thinking. One, what about the Mets? No one talks about them much because they haven’t done well in recent years. But being a fan shouldn’t be about who’s winning. And two, I can get to Fenway in less time than it would take to get into NYC so geography shouldn’t have anything to do with it either.)
I always tried to educate the kids on who played which position. (I was tempted to make bonus questions on quizzes about it, but again I thought that might cross a line!) I always asked the Yankee-fan kids who played second base for their team. (Why second base? Because so much hype has been made about the other infield positions even my mother probably knows those!) Most of the time they didn’t know. I told all the kids if you’re going to call yourself a fan you should know the basics. I’m not expecting a 12 year old to know the entire depth chart, but at least be familiar with the everyday players. (That became a tall order for Red Sox fans this year with all the injuries.)
The heart of the matter is this: you call yourself a fan because you love your team. Maybe life prevents you from watching every game and the budget prevents you from going to Fenway Park and sitting in those delightfully uncomfortable seats, but in your heart you’re rooting and hoping and wishing and cheering on your team no matter what.
Play ball!no comments
While this time of year brings a lot of anticipation for the coming year, with the Hot Stove cooled off considerably from the winter meetings it’s also a time of waiting. For those of us that write about such things, we scramble to fill columns with something interesting and insightful for readers. As I was trying to come up with something catchy for this week I received a phone call from an old friend I used to work with selling slot machines. Eddie says to me, “Teddy, how about I hook you up with a friend of mine, Luis Tiant? I bet he would be interesting to talk with.”
So I spent the evening re-watching “Lost Son of Havana”, the story of El Tiante’s return to Cuba after nearly 50 years and prepared to call him the next morning. You never know what to expect when you interview someone, but Tiant was unfailingly kind, generous with his time, smart and funny. The man you see in the Farrelly Brothers' documentary is the man you get.
We covered a wide range of topics from baseball back in the day, to contracts, Spring Training,the coming season, race and Cuban sandwiches. Honestly, there was just too much information for a single column, so I’ll revisit it from time to time over the next few months.
These days Tiant runs El Tiante’s just inside of Gate A on Yawkey Way and works for the Sox during Spring training assisting the coaches and working with young pitchers. He's a popular presence both on the field and with the fans.
“I put on my uniform and show my ugly face around. People take pictures and I sign autographs. I love it. It’s really a lot of fun meeting the people. It makes me feel good to be recognized and have people say to me, ‘You were my hero.’ You affected a life and you didn’t even know it. That’s a great feeling. I have a great job. I’m in baseball.”
During the season, Tiant spends virtually every home game at the ballpark. At least once per homestand he'll be behind the counter at El Tiante’s, but all days he meets and greets fans.
“I like it when people come and say hello. No need to be nervous. We’re all just people. I’m no different because I have a name. Heck, we all have names. I don’t care what you do or what you have or don’t have. People are people.”
Though the hot stove is quiet right now, the Hub is still humming over what could be with all the new additions.
“We can win with the team we have now. You just never know with injuries, though. Look at last year. We have a great rotation and with the three closers the back looks good. If the guys in long relief can pitch well it can be a great staff,” Tiant said.
These days Fenway echoes with the sounds of "Yooouuuk!" instead of "Lou-eee! Lou-eee!", but Tiant is still as popular as he ever was - perhaps even more so. Make sure that if you're on Yawkey Way this summer you stop by EL Tiante's, grab a sandwich and say hello. He's looking forward to meeting you!