Opening Day at Fenway

Thursday, April 30, 2015

So That's What a Well-Pitched Game Looks Like

In case you missed it last night, the Red Sox actually had a pitcher go seven innings and get a win.

Rick Porcello allowed just one run on three hits. He was superb in shutting down the Blue Jays as the Sox took two of three from Toronto, 4-1.

All the news was good on Wednesday. Hanley Ramirez hit his 10th home run of 2015, tied for the MLB lead with Nelson Cruz. He tied the team record for most home runs hit prior to May 1st.

Mookie Betts made another highlight-reel catch in center field, and the late inning bullpen team of Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara shut down Toronto in the last two innings. Koji looked vintage as he struck out the side in the ninth.

Yeah, it's been a rough last week pitching-wise for the Red Sox. I don't listen to sports radio any more, as it is a haven for knuckleheads. But I'll bet the cry on Boston radio has been for a shake up of the starting staff. Everyone wants to trade Wade Miley or Clay Buchholz. It just isn't happening right now. The Sox will go with the five they have now, and not rush any of their blue chip prospects up right now, like Brian Johnson or Eduardo Rodriguez.

And forget any deal for Cole Hamels right now. Prices are way too high, and the Phillies are content to wait until the deadline on July 31st. They clearly aren't going anywhere, so they can sit back and wait it out. Someone will blink and make them the best offer then. And there will be many teams going after Hamels, especially if he puts up good numbers this season.

And now, the Evil Empire makes its first trip to Fenway this weekend, with Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly taking the hill. The Sox have allowed 119 runs in 22 games this year, the most in MLB. They need more games like last night to stem that tide. The Sox are not in a strong division, but averaging nearly 5 1/2 runs given up a game is not the recipe for any long term success.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Keep Calm. The Sox Will Pitch Better.

I got an interesting email from my friend Adam yesterday, who I have quoted from time to time on this blog. He is a dedicated Red Sox fan like I am, and this was from him about the struggles of the Sox' starting staff after Sunday's loss in Baltimore.

19 games is way too early to panic. All five members of the rotation have major-league track records that say they are solid. A stat like ERA are generally non-predictive because it doesn't really reflect individual performance. Right now, the Sox' rotation sits 8th of 15 AL teams by FIP; they're 6th best by xFIP and 5th by SIERA. Their results haven't matched their performance. In other words, they've been unlucky. While Miley's BB- and K-rates are a bit of a worry, we're only talking about 4 starts. Porcello has been pretty unlucky. 

 He sports a ridiculous 20.7% HR/FB, almost twice his career number. Remember when people like Buster Olney were talking about "red flags" and Clay Buchholz in the same sentence? If you take the MFY game away, Buchholz has thrown 19 inning in 3 starts, allowing 3 ER, and has struck out 26, while walking only 5 hitters. 

 I'm not saying Buchholz has "turned the corner." It's impossible to evaluate players based on a 19-game sample, and it's even harder to determine how good pitchers are based on 4 starts. Look, right now Jon Lester is 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA. Is he a bust? Nope. He has a proven track record and FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all like him so far this year. The point is, Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Kelly, and Masterson are solid veteran starters. One, two, or three bad starts are not predictive of a bad season. 

The Sox' IF defense is fine, assuming Bogaerts can play SS. Panda, Pedey, and Napoli are good defenders. Boston is also pretty solid behind the plate. In the OF, Betts is decent in CF and Victorino, when healthy, is good in RF. Hanley and Craig are awful, and Nava is average at best. 

 BTW, for those of you wondering, "FIP" is Fielding Independent Pitching, and it measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing. "xFIP" is Expected Fielding Independent Pitching and it is calculated in the same way as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed given the number of fly balls they surrendered while assuming a league average home run to fly ball percentage. And "SIERA" is Skill Interactive Earned Run Average, and it estimates ERA through walk rate, strikeout rate and ground ball rate, eliminating the effects of defense, park and luck.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"The League of Outsider Baseball"


I just read a fascinating new book about some of the lesser known heroes of baseball throughtout the years, called "The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball's Forgotten Heroes."

It was put together by a professional artist and illustrator named Gary Cieradkowski. He searched the four corners of the baseball world for some of the most obscure baseball stories, and each subject has an illustration in the form of a portrait, almost like an old time baseball card.

There are plenty of the game's famous names included, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Lefty Grove and Ted Williams. But the book's main focus is on stories of the lesser known names from the game, and it spans all different places, like the Negro Leagues, Japanese and Latin American players, female players, and plenty of "barnstormers, journeymen, rogues and odd balls." (The latter in the words of the author.)

I was fascinated with his section on The Black Sox, the White Sox players who were banned after throwing the infamous 1919 World Series, and what they did following their expulsion for MLB. The book also includes plenty of tragic figures, like Reds' catcher Willard Hershberger, who committed suicide during the 1940 season, Eddie Gaedel, the midget who batted once for the St. Louis Browns in 1951, and plenty of others whose names may not sound familiar but whose baseball dreams never amounted to much.

I was also interested in reading the baseball careers that some famous people from other areas once had, like Frank Sinatra, George H. W. Bush, Fidel Castro and Jack Kerouac.

There are also plenty of "I didn't know that" moments in the book, like the career of the real-life Moonlight Graham, whose one game MLB career was the basis of the movie "Field of Dreams." And that there was a baseball league of expatriate Americans in Russia after World War I. (That can ultimately be filed under "baseball tragedies".)

I did find a mistake or two in the book, but it well worth getting not just for the research but the excellent artwork that Cieradkowski has done. The book will be released on May 5th. I highly recommend to any baseball fan who enjoys reading about those players who were a little "out there."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

15 Games: A Mixed Bag So Far

The first 15 Red Sox games of 2015 have been interesting to say the least.

The Sox are 9-6 and in first in the AL East. The division is very tight, as there is just two games separating top from bottom. They let one get away last night in St. Pete, as Joe Kelly blew a 5-1 lead in the 6th inning. He looked solid for the first five innings, but gave up four straight hits and a walk, and the game was tied at 5. In the next inning, John Farrell brought in Edward Mujica for some unknown reason, and he promptly gave up two runs, including a solo home run, and Tampa Bay went on to a 7-5 victory.

But once again, the Red Sox starters are NOT going deep in the game, and that is a concern. Starters have pitched at least 6 innings only 6 times so far this season, and that is clearly taxing the bullpen. The pen did a terrific job on Tuesday night in the 1-0 win over Tampa Bay, but couldn't get the job done last night.

Last night's game was also the 5th time the Sox have allowed 7 runs or more in a game. They are near the bottom in ERA in the AL right now.

The Sox will sink of swim with the five starters they have now. It's been mixed results so far, especially from Justin Masterson and Wade Miley. They were both solid this week, but both got lit up in their starts last week. Joe Kelly is averaging a strikeout an inning, and shows the stuff he can be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Rick Porcello has been bitten by the home run ball too much in the early going. And who knows which Clay Buchholz will show up on a given night.

I've been impressed with the Red Sox ability to make the opposition pay for their mistakes on defense so far. They lead MLB with 19 runs scored on unearned runs, and the opposition has made 22 errors against them so far. (The Sox won the 1-0 game on Tuesday after Mookie Betts slid hard into second and a DP throw was thrown away allowing Ryan Hanigan to score.) They are an opportunistic team so far.

And they haven't had a runner thrown out stealing yet this season, having gone 10-for-10 on the bases so far, the first time they have ever accomplished that feat.

In the 1-0 win on Tuesday, it was the first time since April 2005 the Sox won a 1-0 game on an unearned run. I remember the last time well, as I saw it live. It was the only time I have seen at a game a Camden Yards in Baltimore. And Matt Clement pitched eight scoreless innings that night for the win. Remember him? (My thanks to Allan at The Joy of Sox for the last two Red Sox factoids.)

There's a lot to like so far in this Red Sox season, and some things to be concerned about. It's a long year, so sit back and enjoy it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius"

As you all know, I am not a fan of the New York Yankees. But I was recently offered the chance to read a new book about the legendary manager Billy Martin, and I decided to give it a chance. It's called "Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius" by sportswriter Bill Pennington.

I'm glad I did.

It's the story of a complex man, who was best known for taking baseball teams and improving them and his legendary dustups with umpires. But he was far more than that. He led quite the colorful life, both on and off the field.

The book takes the reader back to Martin's days growing up in West Berkeley, California, and his eventual forays into organized baseball, and his relationship with Oakland Oaks and future Yankees manager Casey Stengel. Baseball was clearly Billy Martin's most important thing in life, even more than his family life.

But the book also highlights Martin away from the bright lights, delving into his religious faith. Billy was a devout Catholic. When he won the award for the 1953 World Series MVP, he was awarded a new car, a Cadillac. He very quietly gave the car to his local parish priest in West Berkeley, Father Dennis Moore, who had helped his family when they were struggling financially when he was growing up. He also spent many hours in church, looking above for guidance.

Pennington also portrays a man who was fascinated by history, and talked for hours on end with writers about subjects like the Civil War. But he also shows a man who had his demons, and alcoholism plays a very heavy role in the life of Billy Martin.

He also goes into great detail about some of the legendary incidents that Martin will forever be known for, such as the legendary fight at Copacabana in 1957 that eventually got him traded, his dugout confrontation with Reggie Jackson at Fenway Park in 1977, the fight in Baltimore with pitcher Ed Whitson in 1985 (that was especially interesting with all the minute details Pennington gives the reader), and many others.

No book about Billy Martin would be complete without a detailed description of his complex relationship with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. I thought Steinbrenner came off more sympathetic than anything else in this book. He hired/fired Billy 5 times, and had genuine affection for him. Steinbrenner was, of course, a paranoid blowhard, treated many employees like crap, but he is presented here more of a friend who cared for Billy. I suppose you could write a whole book just on their relationship alone, but that's for someone else to do.

Billy Martin clearly loved the limelight, and being a celebrity. He is also shown to be generous with people, such as giving outrageously high tips to regular people. But towards the end of his life, he is portrayed as a man looking for peace in his life. He had been through four marriages, and had settled outside of Binghamton, New York. But the old devil drink came back, after he had given it up for a while. And it would play a prominent role in the accident that caused his death on Christmas Day of 1989.

Martin was indeed a complex individual, and this new book takes us on a journey with this man, who 25 years after his sudden passing has been overlooked by many in the subject of MLB's best managers. "Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius" is definitely worth your time to read, whether he played for or managed your favorite team or not.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Glove, Speed, Power. Mookie Does It All.


It was The Mookie Betts Show for the 104th Opening Day in the history of  Fenway Park yesterday.

And I am so glad I was there to witness it live and in person with The BLOHARDS.

Mookie made his presence known right away, as he robbed Bryce Harper of a two-run home run in the first inning, as he leaped high above the bullpen to snatch it. And in the bottom of the first, with David Ortiz batting and a shift on, Mookie, on first base, stole second, and then immediately high-tailed it over to third, as no one was covering the bag, and just made it ahead of pitcher Jordan Zimmermann's tag. It was just the 11th time in the last 100 years a player stole two bases on one play. (The last being Dustin Pedroia last August.) He scored on Papi's single for the first Red Sox run.

With the score 4-0, Mookie came up with two on in the second, and hit a line shot into the Monster seats for his second home run and it gave the Sox a 4-0 lead.

It was a really bad day all around for the Nationals, as two outfield misplays were centered around a four-run Red Sox third, and it was 8-0. They knocked out Zimmermann, who was charged with 7 earned runs. David Ortiz added a home run into the Monster seats in center in the sixth that made it 9-2.

Rick Porcello went eight solid innings, giving up four runs. The bullpen needed the rest after being stretched out twice in New York. Junichi Tazawa pitched a scoreless ninth to complete the 9-4 Opening Day win.

The Sox are now 10-1 in their last 11 openers at Fenway. But this day will be remembered for the heroics of one Markus Lynn Betts. We may have seen the emergence of a star yesterday.

And I'm so glad I was there to see it in real time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Long Night's Journey Into Morning

I detest Edward Mujica.

I thought he was an awful free agent signing by the Red Sox after the 2013 World Series win. He was the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, and was so awful down the stretch, he was barely used by them in their run to the World Series. So for what ever unfathomable reason, the Sox signed him to a two-year deal. And with Koji Uehara's hamstring injury (thank God he returns on Monday), John Farrell made him the temporary closer. Yikes.

And he gave it up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a game-tying home run to a struggling Chase Headley. The game goes to extra-innings. 10 extra-innings.

It was the longest game by time in Red Sox history: 6 hours and 49 minutes. It included a 16-minute power outage delay in the 12th inning, and the Sox scoring runs in the 16th (David Ortiz' first HR of 2015) and 18th innings, only for New York to tie it both times.

The Sox scored the game winner in the 19th on Mookie Betts' sacrifice fly in the top of the 19th. They turned a sparkling DP started by Xander Bogaerts to conclude matters at 2:13 AM. The Red Sox used up the entire bullpen, with Steven Wright pitching the last four innings for his first win.

I think Steven Wright can put this gritty performance into his collection of his "Very Best Of":


The only longer game between the two rivals was in 1967, with New York winning the second game of a doubleheader (remember those?) in 20 innings.

The teams play their second game of the weekend series at 1 PM today. Barely 11 hours after the final pitch of Friday night/Saturday morning's game ended.

And everyone has a stiff named Edward Mujica to thank for it.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Once Again, I'm a Free Agent

I'm sad to have to say that Trivia at Foley's will no longer be happening. Unfortunately, we weren't able to bring out enough of a crowd on Sunday nights to continue it, and yesterday it was mutually agreed to bring it to a close. I want to thank Shaun and everyone else at Foley's for the opportunity to try a Trivia Night there, and he and his staff were terrific to me. It's a great bar where all kinds of sports is the top priority and should be. Trivia just didn't fit in. But if you are ever in midtown Manhattan, I would encourage you to go there and check it out, especially if you are a baseball fan.

And now I will again attempt to find a new home for my Trivia Night. If any of you know of an establishment looking to start a Trivia Night, please do let me know. (You can drop me a line at: jbq1462@hotmail.com.) I will keep everyone updated with my progress in achieving that goal. Thanks to all of you for your continuing support of my Trivia Night. You are all the best!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

I'd Say That Was a Good Start


Well, the Red Sox wasted no time on Monday to put 2014 far into the rear view mirror, as they blasted 5 home runs and got a near-flawless performance from Clay Buchholz in routing the Phillies on Opening Day, 8-0.

Dustin Pedroia blasted two dingers, Mookie Betts had a solo shot, and Hanley Ramirez went deep twice, including banging a grand slam off the left field foul pole late to put the win on ice.

But what was most encouraging was the start by Buchholz, who was superb for seven innings, striking out 9 and walking just one. He was in complete command all game, and only ran into any trouble in the 7th, when the Phillies got back-to-back hits off him. Buchholz clearly seemed comfortable with new starting catcher Ryan Hanigan, and seemed to be on the same page all day.

Both David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval took the collar, but the rest of the cast picked up the slack.

Pedroia became just the second second baseman in history to hit two home runs on Opening Day, and Ramirez' grand slam was the first on Opening Day by a Sox player since Jack Clark in 1991.

The Sox hit the first four home runs, all solo shots, off former future Sox hurler and current Phillie ace Cole Hamels. (I have a feeling the call to trade for Hamels, especially if it involves Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, has abated for now.)

And on this same day, future Tommy John surgical patient Masahiro Tanaka was lit up by the Toronto Blue Jays in New York, and the Yankees went quietly in a 6-1 loss. The Mets won a gritty 3-1 game in Washington, as they never seem to lose on Opening Day.

Yes, Opening Day. One of my favorite days. Why can't results be like this more often?

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Now We Play For Real

The Spring Training schedule officially came to an end on Saturday. The Red Sox ended the spring at 17-12. (Not that that matters now, as everyone is 0-0 as I write this.)

The opener is Monday afternoon in Philadelphia. Clay Buchholz takes the mound in his first ever Opening Day start, and there is plenty of pressure on him. Few people think of him as an ace, and he sure hasn't pitched like on the last few seasons. He got off to that great start in 2013, going 10-1 before injuries curtailed his season. You have to figure that if injuries and /or ineffectiveness ruin another season, he'll be pitching somewhere else in 2016.

They will miss Christian Vazquez badly, as he had Tommy John surgery on Thursday and will miss the season. He is an adept handler of pitchers, and will be replaced by Ryan Hanigan. And we will see rookie Blake Swihart at some point this year. When is the big question.

Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly will begin the year on the DL. Sounds like neither will miss much time. John Farrell has said he may go by closer-by-committee, but Edward Muijica will get most of the opportunities.

The outfield will be Hanley Ramirez in left, Mookie Betts in center and Shane Victorino. Ramirez had a good spring, both at the plate and in the field, having made just one error. Betts was terrific in all phases of the game, and he looks like a superstar on the rise. Victorino is coming off back surgery, and the job is his. We'll see how long he lasts.

The infield is Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Pablo Sandoval at third. Napoli was blasting away this spring, Bogaerts looked better at short, and Pedroia was again Pedroia after having surgery this past winter on his wrist. Sandoval should be an interesting case study this season. His weight will become an issue if he's not pulling his weight (forgive me, I couldn't resist) at the plate.

David Ortiz will be the DH, with Ryan Hanigan doing most of the catching with Sandy Leon backing him up.

The rotation has been much discussed, as the Sox rebuilt it over the winter with the trades for Wade Miley and Rick Porcello, and the signing of old friend Justin Masterson as a free agent. Both Porcello and Buchholz were the most consistent starters in the spring, and Porcello figures to be the number two man. They made no big trade for a "legitimate" ace, but that could still happen if the need arises during the season.

Where will the Sox finish in 2015? I think this is a playoff team, as the AL East is not a strong division. I'll leave the predictions to the so-called "experts."

Off we go with another baseball season tomorrow. I'll be at Fenway next Monday for the home opener with the BLOHARDS. Here's to a "worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first" season!