Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, June 29, 2008

MOST OVERRATED PLAYER?

In a Sports Illustrated survey of 495 Major League Baseball players in its June 23 issue, Derek Jeter was voted the most overrated with 10% of the vote. Struggling Giants lefthander Barry Zito was second at 9%, while Alex Rodriguez and Red Sox outfielderJ.D. Drew were tied for third with 7%. Mets third baseman David Wright and Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis tied for fourth at 4%.

While Jeter has had a distinguished career, this year year is certainly not among his best. In fact, by almost any measure, it simply isn't all that good. Despite this, Jeter is the number-two vote getter for this year's All Star Game, right behind teammate Alex Rodriguez. That's an undeserved place for Jeter, considering the mediocre year he's having.

Youkilis, on the other hand, has more hits, homers and a higher OBP than the Yankee shortstop. Once known as the "fat guy" at University of Cincinnati, Youkilis gets the utmost out of his limited athletic ability. The Sox first baseman set Major League records this year in consecutive games and chances at first without an error. But that's not all; his bat has been a potent weapon for the Sox all season.

Just look at the various offensive categories in which Youkilis ranks in the A.L.'s Top Ten:

RBI - 50
Average. - .313
Slugging - .544
OPS - .926
Doubles - 22
Total Bases - 153
Extra Base Hits - 37

JD Drew had a miserable 2007. His inaugural season in a Red Sox uniform was an embarrassment and certainly didn't live up to expectations. Simply put, he didn't earn his pay. But he's bounced back nicely this year.

Drew's Top Ten A.L. rankings:

OPS - .986
Runs - 57
Homers - 15
Walks - 45
On Base % - .417
Slugging - .570

But no one seriously considers Drew one of the game's greats. There is no talk about a future in Cooperstown for the Sox right fielder.

Jeter, on the other hand, is not in the Top Ten in any category. He's having a pretty uninspired year, just like the Yankees as a whole. But he is routinely referred to as a modern great who is even comparable to some of the all-time greats.

In 13 seasons, Jeter has amassed over 2400 hits. Unless his career is derailed by injury, he will certainly surpass the 3000 hit plateau. His next home run will be his 200th. And this year he will likely notch is 1000th RBI. But those are hardly Hall of Fame numbers. Perhaps Jeter's best stat is runs. He has reached 100 in eleven seasons, and has amassed a total of 1426. That's impressive.

But the number Jeter is most heralded for is four -- as in the World Series Championships he won over a five-season span with the Yankees. Jeter is also an eight-time All Star, and this year will mark his ninth trip to the Mid-Summer Classic.

But is he really that good? Is he an all-time great?

Aside from the hits, and the .316 career average, the numbers simply don't bear that out. If he weren't on those four Yankee Championship teams, playing for that marquee franchise, in the nation's biggest market, he wouldn't have nearly the same level of recognition or cache.

Jeter has struck out 100 times - or more - in eight seasons. Yet he's never had as many walks in any season. He's reached 300 total bases just three times, the highest being 303. And he's had just one 100-RBI season.

Jeter is also viewed as having limited range at short, yet he's won three Gold Glove Awards, all of which came after A-Rod became a Yankee and moved to third. And he won the Hank Aaron Award in 2007 as the A.L.'s best hitter -- despite having just 12 homers, 73 RBI, 100 strike outs, only 55 walks, and a modest .452 slugging percentage.

The truth is that Jeter is a good player, but not a great one. He benefits from being a Yankee, and from all of the hype and hoopla that come along with it.

His peers are right; Jeter is indeed overrated.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, CURT

At the end of last season, perhaps Curt Schilling thought he saw the writing on the wall.

Schilling told the Providence Journal that his house in Medfield was going on the market, signaling that he figured his days in Boston were numbered. For what it was worth, Schilling wanted to finish his career with the team that drafted him.

“Boston would be my first choice, but we have to be ready in case that happens. We have to prepare for the alternatives.”

As it turned out, he didn’t need any alternatives. The Red Sox offered him a one-year deal worth $8 million, plus incentives. But there were reasons for concern, reasons to believe that such an offer was a mistake.

Over the previous three seasons, Schilling was 31-23 -- an average of 10-8 each year. And in that span his ERA was 4.54. He was clearly in decline.

In fact, Schilling’s last six regular season starts in 2007 resulted an 2-3 record. But his 2.79 ERA over that span, combined with strong October performances, persuaded the Red Sox to make their bid.

But for Schilling, pitching in 2008 was not to be.

As I wrote back in March when his shoulder injury was announced, I thought Schilling had thrown his last pitch. Having an understanding of the shoulder structure, I felt then - as I do now - that the number, level and severity of his injuries (damaged biceps tendon, torn labrum and rotator cuff) meant the end of his great career. So, if his playing days are indeed over, I’m not the least bit surprised.

But I”ll always remember what Schilling meant to the Red Sox over four wonderful and winning seasons. And I’ll always be grateful for his numerous contributions to the team I love.

The recent report on the damage to his shoulder goes to show that he was pitching on fumes last October. He got by on will, guile, and craft. He’s one tough, committed dude, and he was a central figure on two Red Sox World Series teams.

Over the course of his 20-year career, Schilling compiled the best strikeout/walk ratio (4.38 K’s per walk) of all pitchers with at least 1,500 innings since 1900. He was a 20-game winner three-times. He had three 300-strikeout seasons. And he also had 3,116 Ks in his career—good enough for 14th all time.

Though Schilling may fall short of the Hall of Fame (due to his 216 wins), his .597 winning percentage and 3.46 career ERA are truly impressive.

Plus, the 41-year-old righty was 11-2 in 19 postseason starts, with a 1.93 ERA. He’s been a World Series MVP. He’s started a Game 7 in the World Series. He’s won elimination games and series clinchers. He will forever be remembered for the bloody sock and—especially to Sox fans—for helping to defeat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, and then the Cardinals for the team’s first World Series victory in 86 years. For all of that, Red Sox Nation thanks you, Curt. And we’ll be forever grateful.

Lastly, I decided to compare how Schilling stacks up to Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era.

Clemens had to leave Game 3 of last year’s ALDS, down 3-0 after 2 1/3 innings. It was hardly surprising. He has a history of such things. Remember Game 7, Yankees vs. Red Sox, in the 2003 ALCS? Clemens lasted just three-plus innings and exited down 4-0.

In fact, with his team facing elimination, Clemens had just one win in seven chances, and a 5.28 ERA. When was that? Oct. 15, 1986.

So, why would anyone in their right mind call him a “Big-Game Pitcher”? Who knows? He simply wasn’t.

October 10th will mark the 18th anniversary of the day he got tossed in the second inning against Oakland. Of course, that was an elimination game, too. I remember it all too well. Thanks, Roger.

The difference between Schilling and Clemens is that Schilling consistently showed up when it counted—in the post-season—and Clemens didn’t.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MASTERSON EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

Justin Masterson will take the mound again for the Red Sox tonight. In five starts this season he has gone 4-1 with four quality starts—at least six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed.

The 6’6” Masterson sports a nifty 3.00 ERA and has been been a wonderful surprise - a blessing even - for the Sox. He is just the latest example of the team’s remarkable organizational depth.

The 23-year-old righty went straight from Double A Portland to the Big Leagues on April 24th, skipping the customary initial visit to Pawtucket along the way. Masterson has been up with the Red Sox a total of three times so far this season, and he’s making his case to stay each time out.

Reds manager Dusty Baker compares Masterson to Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. Baker said that Masterson reminds him of the Dodger great with his three-quarters delivery and ability to “peel the plate” with his sinker and slider.

The Sox liked Masterson from the day they drafted him and projected him as a big league pitcher. But he certainly got to the Bigs much faster than anyone could have anticipated. And not all great minor league players become great big league players, or even make it to the Majors. It’s amazing how fast a minor leaguer’s fortunes can change. Take Cory Keylor, for example.

Keylor was the Orioles 2006 Minor League Player of the Year. The Sox obtained him last year in exchange for catcher Alberto Castillo. He was 28 when they Sox acquired him in March, and 29 when his contract expired in October.

Keylor is no longer with the organization. He did very little to advance his prospect status last season, batting .246/.320/.405 with 24 doubles, 6 triples and 9 HRs in 109 games. He also struck out a team high 109 times with Portland. He was viewed as a team leader, and some scouts projected him as a fourth outfielder with decent power and a good arm. But he washed out. The point is, you never can be too sure.

On the other hand, Masterson has certainly lived up to the promise, and perhaps even exceeded it.

As good as Masterson has been, the Sox can only hope that Bartolo Colon returns sooner than later and stays healthy in the second half. Young pitchers, such as Masterson, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz will be difficult to count on in the stretch run. They usually hit the wall, running into fatigue issues, as the season progresses. And Lester, of course, is the only one with post-season experience. On top of that, the pitcher with the most post-season experience and success, Curt Schilling, is done. So the Sox will be counting on everyone else to stay healthy and not burn out before October.

NOTES:

The Sox realized Sean Casey’s value last night when the suspended back-up first baseman was unavailable to sub for Kevin Youkilis, who took an errant practice grounder to the eye between innings. Youkilis had to come out of the game and was relieved by rookie Brandon Moss in his first big league appearance at first. A bobbled ball cost the Sox a run on what should have been a routine play and a thrown out runner at home.

Casey, the normally sure-handed fielder, does have two errors in 225 total chances, yet he’s batting an impressive .365 so far this season, despite limited at-bats. But Casey’s value may be even greater in the clubhouse and dugout. His teammates love him and he’s good for chemistry.

In a 2007 SI player’s poll, Sean Casey was overwhelmingly voted the friendliest player in baseball, with 46% of the vote. The next closest players were Jim Thome of the White Sox and Mike Sweeney, then of the Royals, both of whom received just 7% of the vote.

In 2005, Hal McCoy, a Cincinnati Reds beat writer for 35 years, said, “There’s no debate, and there never will be a debate. Sean Casey is the nicest guy in professional baseball. Ever.”

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These are not your father’s Red Sox. The Sox are fourth in the Majors in steals, but they’re sixth in home runs. The Sox are second in the majors to Philadelphia with an 83.5 success rate on steals (71 for 85). The Phillies are at 89.4 percent.


Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, June 02, 2008

MANNY'S MILESTONE MASH: SIMPLY MARVELOUS

Manny Ramirez finally joined an elusive and exclusive group, and in the process cemented his place in baseball history. Somewhat disappointingly, Manny's grand moment didn't occur in historic Fenway Park, but the beautiful Camden Yards served as a fitting stand-in since it has become a sort of Fenway South.

Manny became just the third player to hit his 500th home run as a member of the Red Sox, joining Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams, both in the Hall of Fame. Ramírez will undoubtedly join them one day -- on the first ballot. Williams, however, is the only Sox player to hit all 500 of his homers (521 to be exact) in a Sox uniform.

Manny's record blast, which travelled an estimated at 410 feet to the opposite field, was further evidence of his raw power and tremendous hitting ability. What made the shot all the more amazing is that it came off a pitcher -- former teammate Chad Bradford -- who doesn't yield many long balls. The sidewinder had surrendered only three home runs in the previous three seasons.

But the pressure leading up to the momentous occasion seemed to have gotten to Manny. After hitting No. 496 on April 19, he had only three homers in 34 games leading up to the historic shot.

The achievement is historic for a number of reasons; #24 is only he 24th player to achieve the feat. But beyond that, Ramirez joined an even smaller group. He is only the seventh player in baseball history with 500 homers, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 walks, 475 doubles and a .300 batting average. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Frank Thomas and Ted Williams.

The milestone homer came in his 7,263rd at-bat (eighth fastest all-time), on the day after his 36th birthday. That made Manny the 12th youngest player to accomplish the feat.

Ramirez says he intends to hit 600 homers before he's through. Don't bet against him. He's remained relatively injury free throughout his stellar career, and even though he appears to have slowed from the prodigious home run pace he kept prior to last season, he could easily play four more years, until he's forty.

If he hits 20 more dingers this season, he would need to knock just 26 homers in each of the next three seasons to reach 600. That seems entirely possible, perhaps even likely.

Manny has clearly established himself as more than just a prolific power-hitter; he is simply one of the game's greatest hitters -- period. His .312 career average is testament to that. In fact, only three members of the 500-homer club (Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Jimmie Foxx) have a higher career average.

It has truly been a pleasure and a privilege to watch Manny being Manny, wearing out one pitcher after another over these past 7 1/2 seasons with Boston. He's provided all of us with so many thrills and an equal number of laughs. We can only hope that a couple more productive seasons are yet to be played by him, and that #600 will also come in Red Sox uniform.

Perhaps in around 2011.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.