Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, January 14, 2007

REMEMBERING DEWEY

Most unjustifiably, Jim Rice was once again held out of the Hall of Fame last week. But he is not the only former Red Sox player whose talents are often overlooked.

Although Rice is certainly in the pantheon of all-time great Red Sox hitters -- along with the likes of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, and Manny Ramirez -- another Sox great is often overlooked as well.

Who had more career runs, doubles, walks, stolen bases and a higher on-base percentage for the Sox - Jim Rice or Dwight Evans?

Incredibly, the answer is Evans. The former right fielder, who played for the Sox from 1972-1990, also had just one fewer total bases than Rice, and only three fewer home runs. And he did it all with only 500 more at bats than Rice had - about one season's worth. Evans is often overlooked in the history of great Sox hitters. Now this isn't to argue that Evans is worthy of induction into Cooperstown as well, but it's simply to point out that his on field exploits seem to be forgotten, but are surely worthy of greater merit.

After a 20-year career, all but his last spent with the Red Sox, Evans left his mark with 2446 hits, 1384 RBI, 385 home runs, a .272 career average, and a .370 career OBP.

Evans was never a superstar, but he was extraordinarily valuable to the Red Sox during his long career. With a cannon-like arm that could reach home plate with pin point accuracy, and enough pop in his bat to swat at least 20 homers in 11 out 12 seasons - including nine in a row - Dwight Evans is surely an all-time Red Sox great.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

$1 MILLION PER WIN?

There's been plenty of discussion in the baseball world about Daisuke Matsuzaka this offseason, and whether he'll be worth the Red Sox rather considerable investment in the coming years.

Matsuzaka will cost the Red Sox a total of $103 million dollars over a period of six years -- that's $17.2 million per season. Assuming he wins an average of 17 games a year over that span, each of them will cost the Red Sox a million dollars. But both Roto Authority and Hardball Times project Matsuzaka to win just 15 games this year. Of course it's just a projection, but that's what these guys do.

Considering that there wasn't a 20-game winner in the majors last year, 17 wins might be the best the Red Sox can expect from a pitcher who's never performed in the bigs before. Though 2006 marked the first time in a non-work-stoppage season that no pitcher reached the coveted number, considering how few pitchers last a full six innings in each start these days, it may not be the last.

In today's game, teams look for pitchers who can give them 30-35 starts and at least 200 innings each season -- the kind of guys that are euphemistically referred to as "innings eaters." In the modern baseball world, durability seems to be the best a team can hope for, and it's certainly more likely than having a 20-game winner on your staff. At the least, the Sox have got to get that kind of consistency and output, in terms of starts and innings, from their Japanese import.

But Matsuzaka isn't the only pitcher who'll be earning outrageous sums for each win.

The San Francisco Giants gave Barry Zito the richest pitching deal ever, $126 million for seven years. That's $18 million per season. Or looked at another way, if Zito wins 18 games every season over the life of the deal, he'll earn $1 million for each of those victories. But even in the NL, and in a pitcher's park, that assumption could be a stretch. Over six full big league seasons, Zito has averaged just 15.83 victories a year. Let's just say the Giants have a lot of faith in Zito.

However, the Red Sox had money to spend, and their pitching had to be addressed. The bullpen is another issue entirely, but the rotation clearly needed an overhaul and the addition of Matsuzaka should help.

Last year, the Sox staff gave up a total of 825 runs - 11th in the A.L. The starters had a collective ERA of 5.00, and could only muster a rather pathetic 10 quality starts. As defined, a quality start is when a pitcher works six or more innings and allows three or fewer earned runs.

Judging by his 2006 campaign, Josh Beckett appeared overrated and may be better suited to the N.L. Though he won 16 games for the Sox last year, he also sported an unflattering 5.01 ERA, which can be partially attributed to the whopping 36 home runs he allowed. Both Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield are 40-something starters, which makes both ripe for injury. And considering their histories the past two seasons, that's not unimaginable. Jonathan Papelbon is coming off a shoulder subluxation that sidelined him for the season's final month, and he'll be facing a transition from a relief role to a starting role. There remain numerous questions to be answered and only time will tell.

Sure, Matsuzaka stands to earn $1 million per victory, but there's a good chance he'll actually win 15-20 games. The new reality in baseball is that #3 and #4 pitchers are now earning the kind of money that used to be reserved for #1 starters. As Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi put it, "Never mind trying to find a No. 1 anymore; it's hard to find a 2 or a 3 or a 4 nowadays."

My how the times have changed.

Sox Notes:

The Marlins continue to explore trades for young center fielders, and they especially like David Murphy. One scout calls him a "sleeper," and believes that he'll eventually hit for power. Murphy has been on a weight training program this offseason and has put on 10-15 pounds of muscle. His 6'4" frame now packs a solid 215 pounds, which he feels will help his power and stamina over the course of a 162-game season.

Wily Mo Pena continues to struggle in the Dominican Winter League. During the playoffs for the Aguilas Cibaenas, he's just 2-for-38 with four RBIs and one run scored in 11 games. During the regular season, Pena hit .125 (1-for-8) in two games.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

ANOTHER INJUSTICE FOR RICE

For the thirteenth consecutive year Jim Rice has fallen short of qualifying for the Hall of Fame. Last year Rice finished second in the voting to Bruce Sutter with 64.8 percent of the vote. This year Rice's percentage of the vote actually went down to 63.5, and he once again failed to get the requisite 75 percent the votes needed for induction.

Though Rice had eight seasons of 100-plus RBIs and hit .300 seven times, for some voters it just wasn't enough. Rice slugged 382 home runs, 2,452 hits and 1,451 RBIs to go along with a .298 average in 2,089 games. He was clearly dominant in his era, perhaps the most dominant hitter of his time, but what he lacked was longevity.

That lack of longevity didn't hurt Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. Playing only 12 seasons, Puckett was inferior to Rice in every offensive category, except batting, and yet he still achieved the immortality that induction confers. Either Puckett's induction was a mistake, or Rice has been unfairly left out.

While it's often said that Rice played 16 season in the majors, he didn't. Rice was a September call up in 1974 and had only 67 at bats in 24 games. It wasn't enough to qualify him as a rookie, and it's not enough to be considered a season. Furthermore, Rice only played in 56 games in 1989, his final season. That year Rice had just 209 at bats. To be considered for a batting title, a player must have at least 400 at bats. In a typical season, an everyday player might see as many as 600 at bats. So the reality is that Rice played just 14 seasons, and in that time he amassed absolutely phenomenal statistics. The truth is, if Rice had just sat out those 56 games in 1989 - when his eyesight had long since failed him - he would have finished his career with a magical .300 average. I say magical because many believe that if he'd lifted his average a measly .002 points that he'd have been in years ago.

From 1975-1986 Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs and a .303 average. During this period, Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145), as well as games, at bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and outfield assists.

Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span. He won the MVP award in 1978, when he became the first American League player to collect 400 total bases since Joe Dimaggio. He led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, total bases four times, and was an All-Star eight times. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. He led the AL in total bases for three straight seasons, tying a record held by Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. And Rice joined Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx as the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Need I say more?

Rice was often perceived as a power hitter because of those three consecutive 39 + homers seasons, and because he hit 25 or more homers seven times in a ten year span. But Rice wasn't a power hitter so much as he was a hitter, plain and simple. Between '75-'86, he collected over 200 hits four times, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.

First baseman Tony Perez was considered worthy of the Hall after batting .279 with 379 home runs and 1,652 RBI over 23 seasons. He certainly had the longevity, and therefore the durability, but a lifetime .279 average can qualify one for the Hall? And Perez only averaged 16 home runs and 72 RBI per season. That is not dominant.

But Rice doesn't just outshine Hall of Famers Puckett and Perez. Some would argue that it's only fair to compare players by position. For example, second basemen generally don't hold up well against outfielders in terms of offensive production. They generally get into the Hall based on their their defensive prowess and how they compare to other second basemen offensively. But for argument's sake, I think it's fair to compare Rice to other Hall of Fame players of similar offensive stature.

Rice outperformed Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in every offensive category; runs, hits, homers, RBI, total bases, walks, OBP, slugging, and hitting. Rice also had more homers, RBI and a higher slugging percentage than Roberto Clemente. Rice had more hits, home runs, and total bases than Joe Dimaggio. Rice had more runs, hits, homers, RBI, and total bases than Hank Greenberg. Rice crushes Ralph Kiner in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases and batting. Rice had more hits, total bases and a higher average than Eddie Mathews - not to mention a nearly identical slugging percentage and RBI total. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases and a higher average than Willie McCovey. Rice bested Johnny Mize in runs, hits, total bases, home runs and RBI. Rice surpassed Enos Slaughter in runs, hits, total bases, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and had a nearly identical average. Rice had more hits, total bases, RBI, and a higher average than Duke Snider. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, and a higher average than Willie Stargell. And finally, Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, homers, and RBI than Hack Wilson.

Only nine players in Major League history have compiled as high a career batting average and as many homers as Rice. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. Naturally, each of them is in the Hall.

Only 198 former major leaguers have been elected to the Hall of Fame. The numbers bear out the obvious; Jim Rice should be among them. Despite the fact that 11.5% of the voters didn't get it right, the evidence makes clear that Jim Rice is worthy and deserving of the Hall of Fame. With just two years of eligibility remaining, hopefully next year all the voters will get it right. Rice deserves better than this injustice. He earned it.

Copyright © 2007 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

IS THE PEN MIGHTIER?

One of Theo Epstein's primary tasks this offseason has been rebuilding the Red Sox beleaguered bullpen, which had one lone bright spot in 2006.

Jonathan Papelbon was flat out brilliant last year. Possessing a bulldog mentality, the young righty was absolutely dominating and inspired fear in the hearts of opposing batters until going down with a shoulder displacement at the beginning of September. Papelbon was consistent for most of the season, amassing a Sox rookie record of 35 saves in 41 chances, and a paltry .92 ERA.

But for the Red Sox, the problem was getting to Papelbon. Red Sox starters were lucky to get into the sixth inning in many games, and the assortment of relievers called upon to pitch the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings were unreliable and often unprepared.

To rectify this rather significant problem, the Red Sox recently went out and got a host of middle relievers and set-up men to try to bridge the gap. In short order, the Red Sox acquired lefties Hideki Okajima and JC Romero, plus righties Brendan Donnelly, and Joel Piniero. The Sox even signed former Royals right-hander Runelvys Hernandez to a Triple-A contract. Though he'll be a non-roster player, Hernandez will be invited to Spring Training and given a chance to make the team.

But the Sox most glaring bullpen problem has yet to be addressed. Now that Papelbon will be taking a spot in the rotation, who will assume his role as the closer? The candidates will not only include the host of newcomers, but also the holdovers from last year's squad, including Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen. But some quick addition reveals that we're talking about at least eight relievers competing for what will likely amount to just seven spots on the 25-man roster.

Let's assume the Red Sox go with the following position players:

Catchers - Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli

Infielders - Alex Cora, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz

Outfielders - Coco Crisp, Manny Ramirez, JD Drew, Wily Mo Pena, and Eric Hinske

That's 13 players on the 25-man roster. That leaves 12 spots open for pitchers. After last year's injury nightmare, the Sox will likely go with six starters; Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester. And that doesn't include Matt Clement, who underwent surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum in September and could factor into the mix at some point.

Now perhaps it's too optimistic to assume that Lester will be fully recovered from his recent cancer treatment and strong enough to break camp with the Sox in April. Maybe he'll need some rehab starts in Pawtucket in order to rebuild his arm strength and regain the promising form he displayed in his 7-2 rookie campaign. After all, he'd be just an hour's drive from Fenway if another starter goes down at some point in the season, which is almost a given most years.

So that leaves just seven spots for a large roster of bullpen candidates. Here's a look at the 13 relievers most likely to garner consideration:

Holdovers:
Mike Timlin
Julian Tavarez
Manny Delcarmen
Craig Hansen

New Acquisitions:
Brendan Donnelly
Hideki Okajima
J.C. Romero
Joel Piniero

On the fence / Hopefuls:
Lenny DiNardo
Devern Hansack
Javier Lopez
Edgar Martinez
Kyle Snyder

Something's got to give because obviously not everyone can make the team. It's simply a numbers game.

Some pitchers, if due to nothing more than the size of their contracts, will surely make the cut. Timlin, Romero, Piniero, and Donnelly will all earn considerable salaries and won't get paid millions to pitch in the minors. That said, they all have big game experience as well. Donnelly has a 2.87 career ERA and has struck out an impressive 295 batters in 295 innings. Last year, Romero held left-handed batters to a .211 average and permitted just 13 of 44 inherited runners to score. And in 15 appearances as a setup man for the Mariners last year, Piniero held opponents to a .213 average. All four would appear to have a lock on a roster spot. But what about the remaining three spots?

Craig Hansen still appears green and may be sent back to Pawtucket to work on his pitch repertoire and build confidence. At this point he clearly looks to have been promoted far to fast. Though the move was out of necessity, which isn't his fault, it seems to have been very much to his detriment.

The Sox have held out hope for lefty Lenny DiNardo for a couple of years, but perhaps some of the shine has started to wear off after three seasons and a 5.53 ERA. If Okajima and/or Romero stick, DiNardo's out.

Though he was given limited opportunities to prove himself, Javier Lopez gave up just 13 hits and had 11 strike outs in 16 2/3 innings last year. He'll likely be given a chance to compete for the lefty spot out of the pen. The Sox also liked what they saw from Devern Hansack, who threw a complete-game shutout on the season's final day, though there is little else to go by since he made just two appearances, both starts. And Kyle Snyder's looping curve ball impressed management as well, but his 4-5 record and 6.56 ERA left much to be desired. The 6'8" righty had a tendency to start strong and fizzle early, so he may be ideal for middle relief work.

Edgar Martinez has to get a shot eventually, but he may be offered, along with others in this surplus bunch of middle relievers, as part of a package in a trade for a bona fide closer. That's a scenario the Sox are surely pursuing since "closer by committee" didn't work out too well last time. But such a trade may be easier said than done. So far the asking price has been quite steep.

At this point it's safe to say that the Sox bullpen will indeed be mightier than it was last year - at least in terms of middle relief. But without a surefire, dominating closer to go to in the ninth, 2007 could turn out to be just as disappointing as 2005 and 2006. Theo still has important work to do and, in the absence of this sort of closer, can only hope that someone in the current relief core steps up during Spring Training to surprise and thrill us all. After all, Jonathan Papelbon did it last year. But the question is this; can lightning strike twice and, if so, can the Sox capture it in a bottle?

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.