Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, August 30, 2007

OFFENSIVE ANEMIA

The Red Sox offensive outburst against the White Sox last weekend was an anomaly. The Red Sox scored an astonishing 46 runs in the four-game series while the hapless White Sox could only muster a meager seven runs.

Then came a quick return to reality.

In the three-game disappointment against the Yankees, the Red Sox scored a combined 6 runs on just 13 hits.

But none of this should be surprising.

The lower-than-normal power numbers of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have been well-documented. Ortiz hit his 25th home run of the season last night against Roger Clemens, simultaneously breaking up Clemens’ no-hitter and shutout bid. But with just over a month left in the season, Ortiz has less than half the 54 homers he hit last season when he set the Red Sox single-season record.

And though Ramirez hit his 20th home run on Tuesday night -- becoming just the 12th player to hit at least 20 longballs in 13 consecutive seasons -- his nine-year streak of 30 homer, 100 RBI seasons appears in jeopardy. With 86 RBI, he seems poised to reach the 100 plateau once again. But his recent oblique injury may have eliminated whatever chance he had at reaching 30 homers this year. Since 1995, Ramirez has never hit fewer than 26 homers in a season.

But the focus on Ortiz and Ramirez has somewhat obscured the fact that other Sox hitters are also underperforming this season.

Coco Crisp and JD Drew, two-thirds of the Sox outfield, have combined for just 12 home runs – the same number as Jason Varitek. But it’s not just an absence of power that has limited the two Sox outfielders. Crisp is batting just .268 with 121 hits, while Drew is batting .260 with just 100 hits. To make matters worse, Crisp has only 35 extra-base hits and Drew just 33.

The corner outfield and infield positions are traditionally the power producers. That’s not the case for the Sox this year. Ramirez and Drew have combined for 27 home runs, while Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis have combined for 31. Considering that 11 different Major League hitters have launched 27 homers by themselves, this lack of Sox power is rather glaring.

Only five Red Sox hitters have reached double digits in home runs (Ortiz – 25; Ramirez – 20; Lowell – 17; Youkilis – 14; Varitek – 12), and they’re likely to be the only ones who will. Cumulatively, Sox hitters have combined for just 131 homers this year. By comparison, the Brewers, who lead baseball in this category, have blasted 180.

All of this is surprising to those of us who’d become accustomed to a team that slugged its way to victory year after year. The Red Sox led the majors in runs for three straight seasons, from 2003-2005.

Measured against other MLB teams this year, the Sox are fourth in runs, fourth in RBI, seventh in hits, seventh in slugging, eighth in total bases, and 19th in home runs. But this last statistic is clearly the most glaring. For decades, the Red Sox have been a premier power hitting team. Not this year.

However, the Sox aren’t just suffering a power outage this season; they’re also suffering through some uninspired – and uninspiring -- hitting as well.

Though the Red Sox .278 team batting average is tied with the Braves for fifth best in baseball, it is buoyed by the exceptional and consistent hitting of Lowell (.324), Ortiz (.322), and stellar rookie Dustin Pedroia (.316). And though Ramirez is hitting below his career average while Youkilis is suffering a second half slump -- just as he did last year, both are hitting at least .290. But after that a dramatic falloff begins.

Take a look at these batting averages: Varitek - .264; Alex Cora - .254; Julio Lugo - .238; Doug Mirabelli - .212; Eric Hinske - .201.

Ramirez, a career .313 hitter, is batting .292 this year. Youkilis, who was hitting .328 before the All-Star break, has been in a freefall and is batting just .225 since the break, dropping his average to .290. Before the break, Youkilis had just 40 strikeouts, but with just over a month to go in the second half, he’s already struck out an additional 44 times. And the first baseman had 147 total bases in the first half but has just 64 since then.

The 2007 Red Sox are built on pitching, and clearly that is how they will have to win. Pitching usually beats hitting, but as the Yankees have just proven, that is not always the case. Having the second lowest ERA and the second most shutouts in baseball didn’t make a difference for the Sox in this series. Though the Boston staff has surrendered the third fewest hits and fifth fewest home runs (second fewest in the AL), those distinctions didn’t help against the Yankees.

The Sox could very well face the Yankees again in the playoffs -- should they get there. There are no guarantees this year; there are just three games separating New York, Seattle and Detroit for the Wild Card. The Yankees will surely out-slug the Sox, and the Sox best hope is having superior pitching. But despite what most of us have believed all year long, that is not a given. We’ve just witnessed the Yankees limit the Sox to just six runs over three games, while scoring 14 themselves.

It would be nice if the Sox offense could find a way to come alive and show some vigor before the season ends. But at this point waiting for Manny Ramirez, JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli and Eric Hinske to find the pop that's been missing from their bats may be a lost cause.

Once the playoffs begin, anything can happen. Just consider the 2006 Cardinals. The Sox will have to ride their rotation and bullpen into and through the playoffs. But if the old axiom “pitching wins championships” proves to be true again this year, the San Diego Padres will be hoisting the World Series trophy in October.

Or maybe the Sox hitters will finally find a magic elixir. Do you believe in magic?



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






Sunday, August 26, 2007

BASEBALL'S MOST OVERPAID, UNDERACHIEVING PLAYER

With a .262 average, 7 homers, 46 RBI, and a $70 million contract, that's the most polite way to describe JD Drew.

Coming into this season, JD Drew was supposed to be the potent number five the hitter the Red Sox had been lacking the last few years. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz had been consistently carrying far too much of the offensive load and Drew was billed as the answer.

Instead, Drew has been nothing more than an enigma.

Before homering against the White Sox on Sunday, Drew hadn't hit round-tripper since June 20th in Atlanta. His Sunday shot amounted to just the seventh homer of the season for Drew and was his first in 51 games, ending the longest drought of his career. Drew’s homerless streak had reached a mind-boggling 165 at-bats.

To highlight how disappointing Drew has been at the plate, Bobby Kielty -- who had four RBIs on Saturday -- now has more RBIs (6) this month in just 19 at-bats than Drew has (5) in 68 at-bats.

As we approach the end of August, baseball's most overpaid and underachieving player has a grand total of just 46 RBI.

The 31-year-old Drew entered this season as a lifetime .286 hitter, with a career- total of 162 homers and 509 RBIs -- an average of 20 and 64 per year, respectively.

Apparently it didn’t faze Red Sox management that a guy who’d averaged 20 homers annually could be expected to knock in just 64 runs each season. That should have been a red flag indicating that Drew wouldn’t be an adequate five hitter. It’s now clear that he won’t even come close to approaching 20 homers this season. At this point, ten dingers appear to be a pipe dream.

Despite the underwhelming numbers, and the fact that he’d never been an All Star, the Red Sox made Drew one of the highest paid outfielders in the game. His enormous and unjustified contract was predicated on a pretty slim resume.

Sure, last season Drew led the Dodgers with 100 RBIs, 89 walks, 34 doubles, and a .393 OBP. And he also tied Nomar Garciaparra for the team lead with 20 home runs.

But there was another side to that coin. Drew had hit 30 home runs just once. He’d hit .300 only twice. And his 100 RBI for the Dodgers last year were a career high. His best season in the majors came in 2004, with the Atlanta Braves, when he hit .305 (.436 OBP) with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs, and finished sixth in the National League MVP voting.


That's very similar to Trot Nixon's best season (2003), and yet no one offered him $14 million a year. And one of the Sox' primary concerns with Nixon was his frequent injuries and a lack of dependability. While Drew has thus far remained off the DL, he is clearly lacking Nixon's heart, desire, and grit.

But here's the most amazing aspect of the Drew deal; before he signed, no Sox player had been given a contract of longer than four years by the current ownership. And for further comparison, David Ortiz -- arguably the team's MVP -- receives an average salary of $12.5 million annually.

Without question, Drew doesn't even come close to approaching the value of Ortiz, despite the fact he also plays defense. Yet, the Red Sox have invested superstar money in a player who is not a superstar, and who never will be. Did I mention that Drew has never been an All Star?

So far this season, the $70 million man is batting a paltry .262 with a .362 OBP. That amounts to a meager 99 hits with 60 walks. Some are still talking about Drew’s “potential” and hopelessly waiting for him to eventually come around. A Mo Vaughn comeback is about as likely. Drew has been in the majors for nearly a decade. At this point he is what he is: an average player with an out-sized, undeserved, bloated contract.

Here's what I predicted on this site last December, when the Red Sox signed Drew:

"Due to injuries and an underachieving performance, the Red Sox will try to move Drew before this contract is up. But they'll have to eat some of this oversized, bloated deal because a wiser team will see him as the overpaid, damaged goods he is. And at that point, said team will have the Sox over a barrel. Just you wait and see."

The evidence is in. Based not only on his performance this year, but also over the course of his nine-year career, it can now be definitively said that the signing of JD Drew was a grossly over-priced mistake.


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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

POWER OUTAGE

With a quarter of the season remaining, Red Sox fans and management are still waiting for the sleeping giant that was supposed to be the Red Sox offense to awaken.

How often have we heard people say that Manny, Papi, and JD Drew are going to come around any time now and start producing runs? Stop holding your breath. With three quarters of the season already played out, a clear pattern has been established. The heart of this offense isn't what it was expected to be.

At this point, Ramirez and Ortiz have combined for just 38 homers — one fewer than Alex Rodriguez. Add Drew to the mix, and the Sox alleged power trio have combined for a grand total of 44 home runs this year — just five more than A-Rod all by his lonesome.

And A-Rod has already driven in 114 runs. While we've gotten used to similar production from Ramirez and Ortiz, this year they're way off the mark. Ramirez has 79 RBI. Ortiz has 71 RBI. And Drew? Forget about it. Baseball's most overpaid and underachieving player has just 44 RBI. How pathetic.

Though the Sox remain in first place in the AL East, the offensive impotence of the 3-5 hitters has had consequences.

The Sox have scored one run or less 18 times this season. And in 38 games, the Sox have scored three or fewer runs, having an 11-31 record to show for it. When your best pitcher, Josh Beckett, has a 3.24 ERA and the other starters have ERA's ranging up to, and beyond, five runs per game, it's surprising that their record isn't worse in such contests. They clearly won't win too many games in this manner.

In April, the Sox scored three or fewer runs eight times and had a 1-7 record in those games. In May it again happened eight times, resulting in a 2-6 record. In June they scored three runs or less a staggering 12 times, leaving them with a 5-7 record in those situations. In July it was 10 games and had 1-9 results. So far this month they are 2-2 in these contests.

The reasons for Ramirez's power decline are unclear. At 35, has he suddenly and rapidly gotten old? In 55 at-bats during “late and close” situations — when a team is winning by a run, tied, or with the potential tying run on deck — Manny has driven in five runs, while striking out 14 times — or about once every four at-bats.

Ortiz's diminished power can attributed to his bad knee and, perhaps, his recently injured shoulder. Big Papi doesn't seem so big at the plate any more and hasn't fared much better than his teammate. Over 54 at-bats in “late and close” situations this season, he has also knocked in just five runs.

At this point, it's pretty well established that the Sox success so far this year can be attributed to their incredible starting rotation and exceptional bullpen. The Sox staff is the only one in the Majors with three starters having at least 13 wins apiece. And with a 3.79 ERA, the Sox have the second lowest ERA in baseball, following the Padres (3.46).

The offense has been the problem, and it is largely the reason the team is just 36-32 since the start of June. Case in point; the offense has scored a total of just four runs for Daisuke Matsuzaka in his last four losses. The team's blisteringly hot start in April and May — when they went a combined 36-16 — has masked just how mediocre they've been since then. It's taken them 2 1/2 months to win as many games as they did in the first two months, and they've had twice as many losses.

But here's the rub; the Sox offense has been better than you think it's been. Are you ready for this? The Boston offense has scored the fourth most runs in all of baseball this season. That's right, the Sox have driven in 613 runs, following the Yankees (710), the Tigers (678), and the Phillies (645). Why doesn't it seem that way?

It's largely because players like Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and rookie revelation Dustin Pedroia have stepped up and helped carry the load. Lowell could well be the team's offensive MVP, and Pedroia is a credible AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Even Julio Lugo, who — with his .238 batting average — hasn't been much more likely to get a hit than the rest of us this season, has driven in 57 runs.

Despite having an off season compared to his prodigious and prolific past, on Sunday Ramirez passed Jimmie Foxx for fifth place on the Red Sox career RBI list. Ramírez now has 791 RBIs in a Sox uniform and will likely remain in fifth place until his playing days with the Sox are over. Even if the Sox were to exercise the two option years on his contract ('09 & '10), it's hard to imagine him knocking 457 more runs to pass Bobby Doerr (1,247) on the all-time Sox list. Overall, Ramírez has 1,595 RBIs, tying him with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt for 30th on the all-time list. Ramirez is also in fifth place on the Red Sox all-time home run list, with 253 dingers. It seems certain that he'll never pass Dwight Evans (379) for fourth place.

Ramírez has a chance to become only the fourth player in history to drive in 100 or more runs in 10 straight seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Foxx (13), Lou Gehrig (13), and Al Simmons (11). Ramirez needs 21 RBI over the remaining 42 games to maintain his streak.

What could be in jeopardy is Ramírez's streak of 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons. He has done it nine straight times. Foxx holds the record at 12; A-Rod has now done it 10 straight seasons. Ramirez presently has 19 homers this year. He could get hot at any time — 10 homers in a month is not beyond him — and that streak could also remain intact.

That would be a good thing for the Red Sox and their World Series aspirations. Yes, it's been said countless times before that pitching wins championships. But in order for that to happen, the Sox offense needs to score at least five runs a game, considering that their AL-best pitching staff can be expected to allow at least four runs a game. Other teams should be so lucky.

Bobby Kielty and/or Jacoby Ellsbury might help, but neither will be the savior. Kielty was never that guy and Ellsbury isn't yet — if he'll ever be. No, for the Sox to have post-season success and hoist another World Series trophy, they'll have to hope for some of the old magic from Messieurs Ortiz, Ramirez, and.... JD Drew?

As I said, don't hold your breath.

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

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

IF ONLY SCHILLING COULD HIT

Their pitching should carry them into October. But the Sox offense needs to eventually wake up.

There are just eight weeks to go in the 2007 season. As of now, the Red Sox still have the best record in baseball. Let's hope they're still the best team in October, when it really matters.

Curt Schilling has returned for the stretch run. The Sox managed to go 24-18 in his absence.

So far it looks like the Sox were wise in not granting Schilling the contract extension he's been seeking.

Schilling has been hit pretty hard over the last 12 months, giving up 212 hits (22 homers) in his last 170 innings.

Since July 15 of last season, Schilling is a disappointing 10-8 with a 4.55 ERA. In 170 innings, he has allowed a staggering 212 hits and 22 home runs while striking out just 135. In his last 25 games, he has won consecutive starts just once.

However, before Schilling went on the DL to rest and rehabilitate his pitching shoulder, the Red Sox were 44-25 -- a 103-win pace. The Sox subsequently went 24-18 during his absence, a 93-win clip over the course of a full season. This implies that Schilling's value is approximately plus-10 over the course of a full season.

But Sox starters had almost the exact same ERA during Schilling’s absence (4.18) as they did during his presence (4.10).

The Red Sox weren't great in Schilling's absence, but they hung in there and kept the Yankees from gaining too much ground. No doubt, Schilling's return should make the Red Sox a better team. But he is no longer the staff ace. Those days are long gone. The 40-year-old righty has been supplanted by Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. But Schilling's playoff experience is invaluable. What he needs is "consistency", to "execute" and to "make adjustments", as he has so often said himself.

The starting rotation and the bullpen will be the Red Sox strong suits in these final 50 games. The big question is the offense -- as in, where is it and where has it been?

A weak offense has meant that the Red Sox need to get leads early. They are 60-5 when tied or leading through six innings, 8-39 when trailing. This means that Sox starters have to outpitch their opponents because the lineup hasn't been able to consistently outscore their opponents.

Runners left on base has been the Sox Achilles heel all year long.

The Sox went 21-7 in August of 2004. But they were 9-21 last August when the wheels came off the wagon hauling their playoff hopes. They'll need to be on a roll this September and stay hot through the playoffs to become World Series Champions once again.

The pitching will be as good, or better, than any of the competition they'll face. How good Schilling will be remains to be seen. Having nearly two months off should benefit a pitcher his age. How good the offense will be is anyone's guess.

Playoff hopes usually rise or fall in relation to pitching. For the Red Sox this year, most unusually, much will rest on the Sox ability to score runs and stop leaving runners on base.

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


Thursday, August 02, 2007

WAKEFIELD CELEBRATES 41ST WITH 150TH

Tim Wakefield celebrated his 41st birthday in style.

With his victory over the Orioles today, Wakefield became just the third pitcher in the Red Sox 107-year history to win 150 games. The veteran knuckleballer joins Cy Young and Roger Clemens, each with 192 wins, as the only pitchers in the franchise's storied history to achieve the feat.

Now 13-9, Wakefield is within four wins of his career high and has a legitimate shot at 20 wins this year. With the victory his ERA also dropped to 4.55. Wakefield is on a roll. He won his third consecutive start and sixth out of seven, becoming just the sixth pitcher since 1980 to get a decision in his first 22 starts to begin a season.

The longest tenured Red Sox player, Wakefield has certainly had his ups and downs over 13 seasons with the club. Though he will undoubtedly finish his career in third place on he team's all-time wins list, Wakefield already owns the record for most losses (131) in club history. But he has established himself as an innings eater by pitching at least 200 innings in five seasons, and 195 in another.

Wakefield's 464 games are second in team history to Bob Stanley's 637, and his 327 starts are second to Clemens' 382. But he has also given up more runs, earned runs, and home runs than any other pitcher in club history -- by rather wide margins. He is also the team's all-time leader in walks.

So the record is a mixed one for Wakefield. Ultimately, his place in the team's record book is a testament to his longevity more than his greatness. If you stick around long enough, the numbers start piling up -- for better or for worse. But winning 150 games is quite an accomplishment, and Wakefield should be praised and congratulated for all he's done for the Red Sox over the years.

With a career total of 164 wins between the Pirates and Red Sox, if he can pitch another two seasons -- a scenario that may seem unlikely -- Wakefield has an outside shot at 200 career victories.

Before this season is over, Wakefield (1644) may pass Pedro Martinez (1683) and move into second place on the Sox career strike out list, where he will trail only Clemens (2590).

So enjoy what's left of Wakefield's rollercoaster-like ride with the Sox. At 41, and on a revolving, year-to-year contract, this won't go on much longer. You won't find an athlete who does more more for his community, or who gets more praise from his teammates, than Tim Wakefield.

Thanks for all you've done Tim, both on and off the field. And congratulations on an impressive accomplishment.

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