The Red Sox made an excellent move today, signing Bobby Jenks to a 2 year, 12 million dollar deal. While some have suggested this means Jonathan Papelbon is on the trading block, I do not see how they would get nearly enough value for him in a trade for it to make sense. He is expensive and coming off a bad season, so any suitors will be loathe to take on his money and give up decent prospects. It is possible that Boston just lets him go to dump his salary, but I would not count on it.

I really was hoping that the Yankees would nab Jenks to deepen their bullpen. This is what I said last month:

Jenks is a good buy low candidate after what is perceived to be a poor season. With Matt Thornton returning to Chicago, I could see the White Sox and Jenks parting ways. Jenks has conditioning issues and clashed with Ozzie Guillen at times, but he is clearly an immense talent. Jenks had a 4.44 ERA in 2010, but was victimized by an astronomical .368 BABIP and a LOB% of 65.4. His FIP was 2.59 (xFIP of 2.62) and he struck out 10.42 batters per nine while walking 3.08. Scraping past the surface of blown saves and ERA shows that Jenks actually had an excellent year. He would be an excellent fit to replace Kerry Wood as the 8th inning guy, and his cost is the only issue that would scare me away.

2 years and 12 million dollars is quite a reasonable price for his services, so I think Brian Cashman was asleep at the wheel here. However, Mark Feinsand is reporting that the Yankees are looking into a superior pitcher:

According to a source with knowledge of the Yankees’ thinking, the Bombers are “exploring” the option of signing Soriano, the All-Star closer who pitched last year for the Rays.

With plenty of money to spare in the wake of Cliff Lee’s return to Philadelphia, the Yankees have held preliminary discussions with Scott Boras about Soriano, the source said.

The Yankees’ inability to land Lee has shifted their emphasis on bolstering the bullpen, using their unexpected slush fund toward doing so.

The Yankees had hoped to bring back Kerry Wood to serve in the primary setup role for Rivera, but the 33-year-old is said to be seeking a two-year deal worth $12 million, more than the Yankees are prepared to pay the oft-injured righthander.

In the case of Soriano – who 45-for-48 in save opportunities while posting a 1.73 ERA for Tampa Bay – Cashman is said to be willing to make an exception, paying him “closer money” to back up Rivera with the thought of the 31-year-old bring groomed to eventually succeed the iconic Hall of Fame-bound closer.

Soriano is better than Jenks, but he is also likely to be considerably more expensive and would cost the Yankees their first round pick. Being that the bullpen is more in need of solid depth than major star power, I do not think it would be prudent to sign Soriano to a large deal at “closer money.” Cashman should look into someone like Grant Balfour instead, who can give the club solid performance at a significantly cheaper price. (Edit: Oops, it seems Balfour is also a Type A free agent. Pass on that as well.)

SG over at RLYW released his updated CAIRO projections last night, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the wOBA projections for the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ lineups, being that both teams are pretty much set from 1-9. For those who are unaware, wOBA is a catch-all measure of offense. It does not adjust for ballpark or position, and it is just trying to give a raw estimation of production.

Ellsbury .319
Crawford .347
Pedroia .355
Gonzalez .383
Youkilis .396
Ortiz .374
Drew .365
Saltalamacchia .319
Scutaro .333

Jeter .342
Swisher .357
Teixeira .384
Rodriguez .384
Cano .372
Posada .354
Granderson .346
Montero .337
Gardner .329

Here they are lined up without names:

.384, .396
.384, .383
.372, .374
.357, .365
.354, .355
.346, .347
.342, .333
.337, .319
.329, .319

It looks like the Red Sox might be a smidgen stronger in the middle, while the Yankees have the advantage at the bottom. If you unscientifically just tally up the wOBA’s on each team, you would get a gap of 14 points in favor of the Yankees, a minuscule difference across 9 spots. In all, these are two excellent lineups, with the Yankees possibly having the slight advantage of being a little deeper. Now it is up to Brian Cashman to build a pitching staff that can hang with Boston’s and contend for a division title.

In a display of ninja-like stealth that would make even Brian Cashman proud, the Boston Red Sox made a big acquisition today.  Our old friend Peter Abraham broke the news, reporting that the Sawx have signed Rays OF Carl Crawford to a 7-year 142 million dollar contract.  This is a big signing for Boston, and somewhat of a surprise, as I’m sure many people were expecting Boston to be done with handing out big paychecks after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez (and his reported Teixeira-esque extension demands).

Crawford will be a nice addition to the Boston lineup, likely hitting in the 2-hole behind Jacoby Ellsbury, and ahead of Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Youkilis.  His speed and on-base ability will allow him to score a lot of runs in front of Boston’s big boppers, and give Yankee catchers fits on the basepaths.  He’s also a great defensive outfielder, though his defensive value will be limited at home (in Fenway’s small left field).  Before the Jason Werth signing, if somebody told me that Carl Crawford, whom I consider a very good player but not a star, would be getting 20 million/year for 7 years, I would have been shocked.  After the Werth deal, this one doesn’t look quite as bad for the Sox.  I am curious what this deal means for  Ryan Kalish, who was probably penciled in as the starting leftfielder after making a good impression in his debut last year.

The signing does put a number of other pieces in motion.  We can assume that the Angels (who were very interested in Crawford) will likely focus their attention on Adrian Beltre.  I imagine the Angels will wind up with Beltre, barring a Werth-esque surprise bid from another squad.  I could also see Boston pursuing a Type-A reliever (like Scott Downs) because they would only have to surrender a 2nd-round pick for the signing.

The addition of another lefty hitter (who does not hit as well against lefties) in the Boston lineup will likely increase the sense of urgency that the Yankees face to sign Cliff Lee, though I’m not sure his demands/price will be substantially changed.  The Crawford signing also takes Crawford off the market for the Yankees, who might have considered him as a fall-back should Lee wind up returning to the Rangers or going elsewhere.  I still think Lee is likely to end up in Pinstripes, as I doubt the Rangers or another team will match the Yankees’ alleged 6-year 140 million offer.

What does this signing mean for the division next year?  Certainly, Boston’s lineup will be improved, and top-to-bottom its depth is comparable to the Yankees’.  I might put Boston’s lineup slightly ahead of the Yankees’ at this point (mostly because of the age of Jeter, A-Rod and Posada), though with a Cliff Lee signing and an Andy Pettitte return (admittedly, neither are guaranteed at this point), I would take the Yankee rotation and bullpen over Boston’s.  Are the Yankees doomed?  Far from it.  It will definitely be an exciting race for the division, and with the Rays likely taking a step back ( losing Crawford, Pena, and Soriano), the team that doesn’t win the division will still be in good shape for a Wild Card berth.  Remember, they still have to play the games, and ultimately, the season will probably come down to which team suffers the fewest significant injuries.

According to Jon Heyman, the Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez were not able to reach an agreement on a contract extension. The trade has been called off, as Boston was unwilling to trade Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes for one year of Gonzalez’ services. It will be interesting to see where Boston goes from here, particularly whether they revisit a long term deal with Adrian Beltre.

Ken Rosenthal does add that the clubs can revisit the deal, stating:

Window is closed for #RedSox to negotiate extension with AGon. Teams can still negotiate trade. This is far from over.

Update: The trade has gone through, but no extension was agreed upon. Joel Sherman is suggesting that the two sides may have some sort of framework for a deal in place and are just waiting to see if Gonzalez’ shoulder is fine.

An interesting post from Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory renown over at ESPN:

What would this AL East race look like if the Sox had stayed healthy?

….For those five starters, there were a combined 996 missed plate appearances compared to what would be expected.

Those 996 plate appearances had to go somewhere, so to do the next phase of this projection, I had to take them back from the guys who got them. I tried to be as fair as I could — Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish lost the most, as did players like Bill Hall.

Then I used runs created, a Bill James stat. I created an estimate of how many runs the replacements created in those 996 plate appearances — and how many the injured players would have likely created. For the injured players, I used their preseason ZiPS projections as a guide to how they likely would have played, given their normal playing time.

The five injured starters would have created 153 runs; the replacements created 114. That’s a difference of 39 runs, which equates to roughly four wins.

If you look at the AL East standings, that makes the Red Sox a 78-53 team as opposed to their current status as a 74-57 team; they’d be three games back of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, as opposed to their current seven games back.

I did not want to reproduce the entire article, and was forced to snip out some of the analysis. I highly recommend reading the original article to make sure you capture the context of his calculations.

Dan’s conclusion seems about right. One thing that the saber revolution has taught us is that even the greatest players tend to be worth only 6-7 wins more than a replacement player over a full season. This does not mean that the player only contributes to 6-7 victories. Rather, it states that all of the player’s contributions add up to 6 or 7 full victories that can be credited to the player (relative to a replacement player baseline). Being that none of the Sox players missed the entire season and that their replacements played above “replacement level,” it seems logical that the injuries cost the Sox fewer wins than you might think if you were, say, an overnight host for WEEI (who stated that the Red Sox lost 10+ games in the standings due to injuries and would be way out in front without them). The injuries have killed Boston, and they would absolutely be more involved in the race if they had remained healthy. But they would likely still be on the outside looking in at the start of September even without their incredible spate of injuries.

Over the last few days, while the Red Sox and Rays battled in Tampa, Yankee fans grappled with an interesting dilemma. With the Yankees tied for first place with Tampa and with Boston attempting to make it a 3 team race for two playoff spots, fans of the Bombers were unsure of who to root for. Most of the opinions that I heard on the matter fell into one of three camps:

Rooting for the Rays: Those rooting for the Rays felt that although the Rays were much closer to the Yankees in the standings, the Red Sox posed a more dire threat. Falling behind the Rays would cost the Yankees a home playoff game or two, while falling behind Boston would likely mean that the Yankees miss the playoffs. Additionally, many found it impossible to root for the hated Red Sox, while few felt as strongly about the Rays.

Rooting for the Red Sox: Those hoping for a series victory from Boston felt that Boston was buried enough in the standings to make the Rays the more relevant “opponent.” The Yankees are tied with the Rays and have a more difficult schedule going forward, so these folks wanted the Red Sox to help the Yankees take the division.

Rooting for 20 inning games: The last group could not find it within them to root for either club, and instead wanted long games that took a lot out of both teams. The outcome was irrelevant as long as both teams were decimated by fatigue.

I found myself in the first group, as I worried first about getting into the playoffs. We can deal with Tampa in September.

What was your take on the Tampa-Boston series?

Aug 082010

David Ortiz spouted off after yesterday’s game about Jerry Layne’s strike zone:

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz could muster nothing against Yankees starter CC Sabathia on Saturday, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts (two called) and a double play in Boston’s 5-2 loss to New York. Yet while Ortiz gave some credit to the Yankees ace, he also made no secret about his displeasure with the strike zone of home plate umpire Jerry Layne.

On both of Ortiz’ called strikeouts, he stood at home plate, hands on hips, with a look of disgust about the calls. After the game, he was feeling no more charitable towards the strike zone.

“It was a joke,” said Ortiz. “The fact is that on top of [Sabathia] being that good, he’s got [an ump] calling all kinds of [expletive]. That made him better.

“I didn’t see that many strikes that I can hit,” Ortiz added. “Swinging at all kinds of [expletive]. That’s what you’ve got to do. Swing, swing, swing, swing and good luck.”

Ordinarily I would get on Ortiz for his whining, but he had reason to be upset. Here is the strike zone that Layne called in yesterday’s game:

And here is the zone that he called for left-handed hitters:

The strikezone to righties looks fairly standard, suggesting that Layne had a problem picking up the ball against lefthanded hitters yesterday. His zone took on an odd oval shape to those hitters, extending far inside and cutting off the entire outside corner. While both teams were victims of the zone, two of the most egregious calls of the game were in fact pitches to Ortiz. While I am not a huge fan of players complaining about the umpires after a bad game, Ortiz had a legitimate complaint and was justified in voicing his displeasure.

From the NY Post:

Reggie Jackson’s belief that Robinson Cano has passed Dustin Pedroia as the premier second baseman in the American League isn’t simply Mr. October’s bias because he works for the Yankees.

“After this season he will be the best second baseman in the American League and then chase Chase [Utley],” Jackson told The Post. “He is a better player than Pedroia and I think Pedroia is a great player, an MVP.”

Jackson has company from the fraternity that scouts everything from tools to makeup.

The Post contacted six scouts and asked them who was better. Three clearly favored the sizzling Cano, another said it was close but went with Cano and while the fourth picked Pedroia, he admitted Cano was the better hitter. The sixth said Cano had better skills but Pedroia’s all-out effort every game made it a push.

I started this post to dispel the notion that Robbie is better, as I was certain that Pedroia has been the better player since he entered the league. However, I always try and go where the data takes me, and now I am not certain that a definitive evaluation can be made on this question. Here are the WAR numbers from, with Cano first and then Pedroia:

Using Fangraphs WAR gives a slightly different picture in 2009, with Pedroia edging Cano, but the general point holds true. Cano was better in 2007, they were about equal in 2009, and Pedroia was vastly superior in 2008. Cano also had solid seasons in 2005 and 2006 while Dustin was toiling in the minor leagues. Another important variable is the home road splits:

Cano Home: .307/.336/.485 wOBA: .350
Cano Road: .310/.345/.485 wOBA: .352

Pedroia Home: .326/.384/.501 wOBA: .382
Pedroia Road: .288/.354/.420 wOBA: .341

Cano does not have a noticeable split, while Pedroia clearly benefits greatly from playing in Fenway Park.

I think the choice between Cano and Pedroia hinges upon how heavily you weigh Pedroia’s lesser numbers on the road and Cano’s poor 2008. If you see 2008 as a fluke and consider the home-road splits to be vitally important to this analysis, then you will likely take Cano. If you believe that 2008 is indicative of Cano’s inconsistency and find that the splits are not that significant for a guy who is a pretty good player away from home, you will choose Pedroia. I’m torn on this, although if I was forced to make a choice, I would probably take Dustin. 2008 scares me a bit, and Pedroia is a slightly more well-rounded player. But a choice for Cano would be equally valid, and I’m sure I’ll vacillate on this one as their careers progress.

Who do you think is the better player? Why?

As I write this, the Red Sox are putting the finishing touches on another blowout loss to the Rays, which will finish off a 4 game sweep and drop the Sox to 4-9. Red Sox fans are burning up the WEEI phone lines to hurry and agree with the hosts ready to dig Theo Epstein’s grave while mocking the “pitching and defense” mantra that highlighted the offseason in Boston. Meanwhile, Yankee fans are reveling in the Red Sox struggles, allowing the schadenfreude to set in alongside the excitement over the Yankees’ fast start. Yet, as I said in Steve’s post this morning, it is too soon to write off the Red Sox.

The Red Sox have gotten poor pitching from Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett have been adequate, and Clay Buchholz has been uneven. The Sox are likely to pitch better than they have, and once their top 3 starters get rolling, they should heat up. The offense has also underachieved drastically:

1 C Victor Martinez# 31 12 51 49 5 11 4 0 1 4 0 0 2 4 .224 .255 .367 .622 64 18 5
2 1B Kevin Youkilis 31 12 52 42 9 10 3 1 2 6 1 0 8 10 .238 .365 .500 .865 129 21 1
3 2B Dustin Pedroia 26 12 57 49 8 18 4 0 5 13 0 0 4 7 .367 .404 .755 1.159 201 37 1
4 SS Marco Scutaro 34 12 49 42 5 12 1 0 1 3 1 1 5 5 .286 .375 .381 .756 103 16 1
5 3B Adrian Beltre 31 12 42 40 2 12 3 0 0 6 1 0 1 4 .300 .310 .375 .685 82 15 2
6 LF Jeremy Hermida* 26 9 30 29 2 6 3 0 1 6 0 0 1 9 .207 .233 .414 .647 69 12 0
7 CF Mike Cameron 37 11 36 30 2 7 3 0 0 0 0 0 5 8 .233 .361 .333 .694 87 10 1
8 RF J.D. Drew* 34 12 43 38 4 5 0 0 1 2 0 1 5 16 .132 .233 .211 .443 20 8 1
9 DH Mike Lowell 36 3 12 12 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 79 4 0
10 DH David Ortiz* 34 9 38 35 2 6 5 0 0 2 0 1 3 15 .171 .237 .314 .551 46 11 0
11 OF Jacoby Ellsbury* 26 6 30 30 6 10 4 0 0 1 2 0 0 5 .333 .333 .467 .800 111 14 0
12 C Jason Varitek# 38 3 12 12 3 5 1 0 3 3 0 0 0 1 .417 .417 1.250 1.667 324 15 0
13 UT Bill Hall 30 3 11 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 .000 .273 .000 .273 -19 0 0
Team Totals 31.3 12 463 416 48 106 31 1 14 46 5 3 37 86 .255 .318 .435 .753 99 181 12
Rank in 14 AL teams 9 10 7 2 9 6 12 6 10 9 6 8 4 5 6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2010.

Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, JD Drew, and Mike Cameron have underachieved, and only Dustin Pedroia from among the regulars is outhitting his career numbers. Meanwhile, Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury have been in and out of the lineup due to freak injuries, drastically diminishing their outfield defense. Finally, the team is hitting .170/.252/.298 with runners in scoring position, an unsustainable number that should correct itself and result in plenty of high run totals. Quite simply, the entire roster outside of Pedroia is underachieving, and it is unlikely that this state of affairs will last.

The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays were seen by most impartial observers to be three similarly talented teams coming into the season. Practically every projection system had two of these teams in the postseason, with most having the Yankees and Red Sox as the two best teams in the division. A 12 game sample is simply too small to glean enough information to conclude that the Yankees and Rays are going to be in a dogfight all season while the Red Sox lag far behind. After years of saying “it is early” in response to early season struggles by the Yankees, it would be hypocritical for Yankees fans to bury the Red Sox before April is out. Similarly, let’s try and maintain perspective about the Yankees. While I believe that this is an excellent team, we all knew coming into the year that the team had flaws and question marks, and those have not entirely dissipated due to a fantastic first 12 games.

These first few weeks of the 2010 season have been a blast. The Yankees have looked great while the Red Sox have fallen flat, and it seems as if all is right in the baseball world. But a time will likely come when the gap between the two clubs narrows, and the tables might be turned for a bit. As Yankees fans, let’s try and avoid getting cocky about the fortunes of these two rivals, and just enjoy the unbelievably good play of the team while it lasts.

The photo above is the Gameday illustration of Curtis Granderson’s brief at-bat against Jonathan Papelbon the other night. Papelbon threw two pitches to Curtis, the second one being a fastball middle-up at 94 MPH. As I am sure you know, Granderson turned on that pitch and sent it into the seats in right to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. What was interesting about Papelbon’s performance Wednesday night was that although he has been encouraged to rediscover his splitter, he is still not confident enough to use it as an out pitch. According to Fangraphs, Papelbon threw his splitter less frequently in 2009, maddening Red Sox fans as he consistently reverted to a fastball-only philosophy in tight situations, while occasionally mixing in a slider. Here is Papelbon’s pitch type graph from his blown save in Game 3 of the ALDS, courtesy of Brooks Baseball (FF is fastball, FT is splitter):

As you can see, all but one of his 28 pitches were fastballs. I’m not sure why it is that he has eschewed the splitter, but there was much talk this spring about recapturing that pitch as the devastating out pitch it once was. Against the Yankees, he threw 26 pitches, with 8 of them being splitters. However, he only threw one slider, rendering him a two pitch pitcher once again. Furthermore, as the following graph shows, he refrained from using the splitter deep into counts, with 6 out of 8 coming in the first 2 pitches of an at-bat. Here is his pitch selection chart based on pitch number in the AB:

I am certainly not suggesting that Papelbon cannot succeed with just two pitches. He was very good in 2009, and I expect him to be excellent again in 2010. That said, when I brought this point up on Twitter, Ben Kabak of RAB astutely pointed out its relevance to Joba Chamberlain. I think the Yankees and Joba can learn a valuable lesson from Papelbon. Working in the bullpen often leads a pitcher to pare down his repertoire, removing pitches that can be effective but are simply not needed when facing just a handful of hitters one time. If Brian Cashman really still sees Joba as “a starter in the bullpen,” it will be important to have him mix in his changeup and curveball on occasion in order to maintain the quality of those pitches. Even if he is destined for the bullpen, having extra pitches at his disposal will leave him less prone to blow-ups when one of his primary pitches is not working. No matter what the future holds for Chamberlain, maintaining his entire repertoire of pitches will help him maximize his value.

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