Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Big Papi is a Big Cheater

Now We Know Why Papi Doesn't Play So Big Anymore

"Ban 'em for the whole year."

That was Red Sox slugger David Ortiz's suggestion on what to do with MLB players who test positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). At least that's what he said during Spring Training.

I wonder how Ortiz feels now?

Care to put your money where your mouth is, David?

When Ortiz was asked about the revelations of a 2003 drug test before today's game, he told The New York Times: "I'm not talking about that anymore. I have no comment."

Sorry, David, but that just won't do. You took a very strong public stance against PEDs and the players who use them, so there's no backing down or ducking out now. You've got some explaining to do.

As for Manny Ramirez, also implicated as a PED user today (which was already old news), the guy just seems to be bullet proof. Manny has always believed that he is different than everyone else and that he gets to operate under a different set of rules.

But Manny is not the Red Sox' problem anymore. He's a Dodger now. Earlier this month LA fans gleefully welcomed him back from a 50-game suspension for using a female fertility drug. Perhaps Manny is attempting to become the first ever pregnant man.

Manny just motors along, unfazed in Manny Land. His personal mantra seems to be, "What, me worry?"

Ortiz and Ramirez were both iconic figures in Boston. They were heroes to Red Sox Nation and idolized by children. But both have now proven to be cheaters, plain and simple. And both are terrible role models to the kids who adore and cheer for them.

So much for rules. So much for ethics. So much for integrity. So much for "playing the game the right way," as players so often love to intone.

Like A-Rod, Sammy Sosa and likely Barry Bonds before them, Ortiz and Ramirez are both liars, cheaters and frauds.

Today's revelation explains once and for all why Ortiz's career has suddenly fallen off a cliff. Quite clearly, Ortiz's performance is no longer enhanced.

It's all so ugly and shameful. The news will only put further pressure on Theo Epstein to make a trade in an attempt to change the headlines in Boston.

As it is, the Red Sox are already the focus of a circus-like media atmosphere at home. Aside from New York, no city has as many reporters covering its team.

This story will become a focal point and take on a life of its own in Boston – just what the slumping Red Sox don't need right now.

Due to his rather rapid and stunning decline, the shine has already come off Ortiz in Red Sox Nation. Today's sad revelation should only serve to tarnish and diminish his once legendary exploits.

Ortiz was always beloved by Red Sox fans. But those fans can't pretend that there are two sets of rules. If they condemned Bonds, Sosa and A-Rod, they should be consistent and condemn Ortiz as well.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rice Was Always Worthy



Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in the American League over a 12-year span. That says it all.

But for 14 years, Rice failed to garner enough votes for entrance into the Hall of Fame. This year, with a weak field of candidates, Rice had his best, and last, opportunity. And now, finally, he gets to join the other all-time greats in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Why it took so long is difficult to figure.

Rice deserved an earlier entrance. In an era when power numbers are suspiciously viewed through the lens of steroids and other performance enhancers, Rice's production over the course of his 14 years merited additional consideration.

While it's often said that Rice played 16 seasons 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 qualify 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.

And 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 .300 average. Many believe that if Rice had simply lifted his average a measly .002 points that he'd have been inducted to the Hall years ago.

An argument used against Rice was that he wasn't a great fielder. Dale Murphy, another player of Rice's era who's also been a borderline candidate, was a five time Gold Glove winner. Yet, his career fielding percentage is just .002 higher than Rice's. Either the criteria for a Gold Glove wasn't as strict in the NL, or Rice was simply overlooked. Believe it or not, from 1975-1986 Rice led the American League in outfield assists. Simply put, he was always underated as a defensive player.

Rice's numbers are impressive -- 382 homers, 1,451 RBI -- and they aren't tainted. We live through an era era when 40 homer season became common, and when the achievements of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds -- the three best power hitters of their generation -- are highly dubious. Yet there is no such suspicion of Rice.

Sure, Rice fell short of the 400 career homer mark which used to almost assure election. But his accomplishments over a twelve year span were nothing short of spectacular, though clearly under-appreciated. Rice was the most dominant hitter of his time, outshining all of his contemporaries. That alone qualifies him for the Hall.

Longtime Red Sox public relations executive Dick Bresciani issued a highly detailed four page report on Rice's achievements, and the former left fielder owes Bresciani a debt of gratitude. That report surely had an influence on the Baseball Writers of America.

When it comes to stats, Rice's were considerable. Red Sox fans who witnessed his exploits have always had as bias toward his selection, but Rice's numbers speak loudly and convincingly for him.

Though some have argued that Rice wasn't great for a long enough period of time, for a period of 12 years -- 1975-86 -- 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). The other categories were games, at-bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and the previously mentioned outfield assists.

What these statistics bear out is that over this remarkable period Rice was not only durable, but consistent and clutch as well.

During that span, Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs scored and a .303 average. Though his career slugging percentage is .502, Rice wasn't just a power hitter – he was a hitter, plain and simple. In four of those seasons he collected over 200 hits, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.

Put Rice's accomplishments in context; he led every player in his league in virtually every significant offensive category for twelve consecutive years. Even if you add in all of the National League players from the same era, Rice still leads in five categories and finishes second in three others.

Finishing first or second in eight different categories for a dozen years means that Rice is certainly well qualified for the Hall. If Kirby Puckett was deserving, Rice is more deserving.

Some say that if Rice had just hit 18 more homers and lifted his .298 career batting average a mere two points, that his election would have be guaranteed a lot earlier. That's splitting hairs.

Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span, more than any other player between 1963 and 2005.

He won the MVP award in 1978, when he collected a staggering 406 total bases, becoming the first American League player to crack 400 since Joe Dimaggio. During that phenomenal year, Rice also hit .315, had 213 hits, 46 home runs, 139 RBI, and amassed a .600 slugging percentage.

An eight time All-Star, Rice led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, and total bases four 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, Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx are the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Enough said.

Lest anyone need more convincing, feel free to measure Rice against the all-time greats. Among all Major Leaguers, only nine players have compiled as high a career batting average and as many homers. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

All of them are in the Hall of Fame, and Rice has finally joined them -- where he rightfully belongs.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Red Sox Offense has been Offensive

July has not been kind to the previously formidable Red Sox offense

Though the Red Sox remain fourth in the AL in runs scored, it's truly hard to believe right now. For the past month, the Sox offense has looked positively anemic. It says a lot about their pre-July production.

Throughout the Red Sox order, there is a glaring deficiency; most of these guys simply aren't hitting right now. At .261, the Red Sox team batting average has fallen into the bottom half of the AL.

Players generally expected to perform at a high level are doing anything but. Eight Red Sox players are hitting below .260, including Jason Bay (.252), JD Drew (.233) and David Ortiz (.228).

Bay's slump is hard to figure. A lifetime .279 hitter, the All Star has 20 homers and 72 RBI so far this season. But Bay has suddenly hit the skids. The left fielder has just one homer in the past month, covering 23 games. In that same period he has just three RBI and four extra-base hits. It's been one very ugly month for the Canadian native.

But, in his case, it's probably just a typical midseason slump that he will soon snap out of. Bay has a strong track record and it's a good bet he is poised to breakout. Over the past five seasons Bay has averaged 29 HR and 95 RBI, while batting .282.

JD Drew, on the other hand, is another story altogether. Since coming to Boston as a free agent three years ago, Drew has been a huge disappointment.

The Red Sox signed Drew to be a middle-of-the-order hitter, based on his "sweet swing" and lots of perceived promise. But in the ten previous seasons, Drew had hit .300 twice, hit 30 homers once, and drove in 100 runs once. None of that warranted paying him $14 million per season, especially since no other team was stepping up to do so. The Sox are now paying for their ill-advised decision, both literally and figuratively.

In his 2 1/2 years in Boston, Drew has 42 HR, 166 RBI, 213 runs, 10 SB, and a .261 average. The Sox' $75 million investment hasn't gotten them much. Even when the Sox signed him three years ago, Drew was a whole lot more hype than hope. Julio Lugo was a bust indeed, but Drew cost the Sox a whole lot more. And Lugo didn't come with all the same hype and hoopla as Drew. The expectations of Drew have been a lot higher and he has failed miserably to live up to them.

Over his first five seasons in Boston, David Ortiz became a folk hero. He came to Boston as a Minnesota castaway, with no hype and no expectations whatsoever. In that time he became known as the "greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, and in 2006 set the team's single-season home run record with 54 moon shots.

But last year his season was cut short due to wrist surgery. Truthfully, he's never been the same since 2007. More than ever, Ortiz looks overweight, slow-swinging, and old. Could he really be just 33?

Despite the widespread hope that Ortiz was coming out of his early season slump, he isn't. It's late July and this is simply the new reality for Ortiz. In three of his six previous seasons with the Sox, Ortiz hit at least .300. That now seems like a long time ago. Sadly, Ortiz's career seems to have suddenly gone over a cliff. It's hard to get excited about his 12 homers when he has a .315 OBP and isn't even batting his hefty weight.

We love David Ortiz for all he's done for the Red Sox. He was a key part of two World Series championships and helped make the Red Sox a powerhouse. He brought life and excitement to the team and was always fun to watch. But those days are long since over.

Though he's hit an improbable 13 home runs – matching his total from all of last year – Jason Varitek is hitting 30 points below his career average. And it's important to note that his .261 carer average was pulled down by batting .220 last year. At this point, Varitek is no longer overpaid. But he isn't much of an offensive threat either.

With just 288 career at-bats, Jed Lowrie is still a work in progress, and perhaps just an inexpensive, low-expectation experiment. Though he's had just 28 at-bats this season, he is batting a mere .107 and is 2 for 10 since his return from the DL.

George Kottras, though only playing every five days, makes us grateful for that. So far he hitting just .213 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 33 games this season. At this point, it seems clear that he is not Jason Varitek's successor, nor the long term solution to the Sox' catching quandary.

After a hot start, Nick Green has fallen back to earth, and is now hitting .250. But considering his solid defensive play, and how little was expected of the non-roster Spring Training invitee, Green has been a blessing in the absence of Jed Lowrie and the continued demise of Julio Lugo.

Rounding out this group of tepid Red Sox hitters is Mark Kotsay, who is currently batting .257, 24 points below his career average. Having hit a combined total of 15 homers over the past four seasons, he is not a deep threat or a prototypical first baseman or corner infielder. That's because the natural center fielder has been playing out of position since coming to the Sox last August. The true team player has done an admirable job of filling in wherever and whenever Terry Francona has asked him.

Though he plays solid defense and by all accounts is well-liked by his teammates and coaches, Kotsay looks like the odd man out in a pending numbers game. The Sox will have to trim their 25-man roster by one to make room for the newly acquired Adam LaRoche, a true first baseman and power hitter. It seems that Kotsay's time in a Sox uniform may be running out.

It's obvious that LaRoche is not the sole answer to the Red Sox offensive struggles, but they hope he can provide a bit of thump to a lackluster lineup.

The Red Sox offensive malaise has spread throughout the clubhouse like a contagion, and hopefully a couple of hitters will come around soon. But as the numbers dictate, the Sox offense is not bolstered by enough good hitters, and the club still seems to be at least one potent bat short of being the team to beat in the highly competitive AL East.

That's why the next week could be eventful and even fruitful for the Sox. The funk they're presently mired in makes it highly unlikely that Theo Epstein is done dealing.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

With Trades, Red Sox Attempt to Create Something From Nothing

Since they'll be paying virtually all of his salary for the next season and a half, the Red Sox were able to pawn Julio Lugo off on the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Chris Duncan, plus a player to be named later.

For the Cardinals, who lack depth at the shortstop position, Lugo actually represents an upgrade since there is no true backup shortstop on their roster.

The 28-year-old Duncan is the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, and the brother of former Yankee first baseman Shelly Duncan.

Papa Duncan was reportedly none too happy that his son was traded. However, he noted that Chris is happy with the move and that his son has always done better on the road than in St. Louis, so he expected the move would benefit him.

The left-handed hitting Duncan is primarily a left fielder, but also plays first base. He batted .227 (59-for-260) with five home runs and 32 RBIs in 87 games for the Cardinals this season, going 4-for-12 (.333) as a pinch hitter. He ranked second on the club, and was tied for ninth among left-handed National Leaguers, with 41 walks.

But, after a strong April, Duncan went into a funk that he's not ben able to shake. In May, he hit .227 and slugged .386, and in June his slugging percentage fell all the way to .289. Duncan is just 1-for-31, without an extra base-hit, since June 29. He'd also gone over a month without an RBI. His poor play earned the scorn of the St. Louis media and the usually supportive Cardinal fans.

Duncan's season was cut short last July 22nd due to a herniated cervical disk that eventually required surgery. This morning, one year to the day later, he was optioned to the Cardinals AAA affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, before being traded to the Red Sox.

Over parts of four seasons, the 6'5", 230-pound Duncan has shown some power, notching 55 career homers, or one every 21 at-bats. His most productive season was 2007, when he hit 21 homers with 70 RBI. Before being injured, Duncan, a career .257 hitter, had back-to-back 20-plus homer seasons.

After being acquired by the Red Sox, Duncan was immediately assigned to Pawtucket. The fact that he isn't out of options and could be assigned to Triple A made him a perfect fit for the Sox. The team wasn't required to make a corresponding roster move to accommodate him, a significant part of the reason that Lugo was designated when Jed Lowrie was activated.

This was the best possible scenario for the Red Sox; they were able to get something in return for Lugo instead of simply losing him without compensation. And they got a player with options who won't force additional roster moves, allowing the club greater flexibility.

But the bigger news today was the Red Sox acquisition of Pirates first-baseman Adam LaRoche, who , like Duncan, also has a brother with Major League experience (his former Pirate teammate, Andy).

LaRoche gives the Red Sox a power bat and another option at first base, should the team need Kevin Youkilis to spell Mike Lowell from time to time at third. Lowell is still recovering from hip surgery and it is unknown how much he can be depended on in the second half.

One important note to this signing is that is will result in a corresponding roster move. Which player is demoted, traded, or DL'd remains to be determined.

The 6'3", 205-pound LaRoche has swatted 20 or more homers in each of the last four seasons, and with 12 so far this year is on pace to do so again. In that span, he has averaged 25 homers and 85 RBI. A career .269 hitter, his best season was 2006, when he had 32 HR, 90 RBI, and a .285 average.

However, the slumping first baseman is hitting just .109 since July 4. The good news is that he is a consistently torrid second-half hitter whose career OPS after the All-Star break is .901.

The Sox are hoping this pattern continues and that LaRoche can help spark a club that is hitting just .192 over the six games since the All Star break. In that span, the Sox have scored only 2.2 runs per game, resulting in a 1-5 record.

As further evidence of the Sox significant offense needs right now, six of the nine starers in Wednesday's lineup are hitting less than .260 at present.

The left-handed LaRoche has also shown great defensive prowess at first base, with one error in 836 total chances. He ranks second among NL first basemen with a .999 fielding percentage. The Sox can sub him for the Gold Glover Youkilis at any time and not miss a beat.

The incredible part of the story is that to obtain LaRoche, the Red Sox only had to part with two lesser prospects, shortstop Argenis Diaz, and pitcher Hunter Strickland.

Though a slick-fielding shortstop over six pro seasons, Diaz was hitting just .253 with no homers and 24 RBI for Double A Portland. The willingness of the Sox to trade him says a lot about their belief in minor leaguer Yamaico Navarro, as well as the recently-signed Jose Iglesias and Jose Vinicio, as the likely shortstops of the future.

The 20-year-old Strickland was an 18th-round pick in the 2007 draft. He is 5-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 18 games, including 12 starts, at Greenville. The Sox' incredible pitching depth made him easily expendable.

Now in his sixth season, LaRoche is eligible for free agency this fall. The health of Mike Lowell may determine whether or not the Sox attempt to resign LaRoche in the offseason.

In the meantime, he adds more versatility to the Sox roster and adds some much needed left-handed power to an offense that sorely needs it right now. But his at-bats will come at the expense of not just Lowell but also the light-hitting Mark Kotsay.

Both players are said to approve of the move and hope that it will improve the ball club.

We can only hope it does. One way or the other, the Sox have now added two left-handed hitting first baseman with power to their arsenal. That was something that neither Julio Lugo nor Argenis Diaz could provide them.

That makes these moves savvy, and likely beneficial, in both the near and long terms.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Julio Lugo Experiment Comes to a Merciful Ending

It was bad for Julio Lugo right from the start.

Lugo called Red Sox management during the winter they signed him, saying he had a sickness that resulted in the loss of 15 or 20 pounds. When he showed up for Spring Training, he lacked both strength and quickness. He started slowly and didn't recover, never again becoming the player he was with Tampa.

Ultimately, Lugo never lived up to the four-year, $36 million contract he signed before the 2007 season. So the Red Sox did what had seemed inevitable for so long and released the disappointing shortstop.

“It’s a sunk cost. I’m sorry it didn’t work out better for Julio, but keeping him on the team wasn’t going to change that,” said GM Theo Epstein.

The Red Sox have been trying to deal the underperforming Lugo since last offseason, but the combination of his lackluster offense, poor defense, and large salary nixed any chance of a deal and the Sox have found no takers.

Though the Red Sox won the World Series with Lugo as the everyday shortstop in 2007, the Sox were just 11-16 when he started at short this season, compared to 42-15 when Nick Green is in the lineup.

According to the Providence Journal, Lugo has gained a reputation around the league as a player who does not work as hard as the players around him. That reputation will make it very difficult for the Red Sox to trade him, especially given the remaining $3.5 million of his $9 million salary for 2009, $9 million for 2010 and a $9 million vesting option in 2011.

His poor work ethic was painfully obvious.

For their 2 1/2 year, $36 million investment, the Red Sox got 10 HR, 103 RBI, and 42 errors from their shortstop. From the get-go, Lugo was a liability at the plate and in the field.

During his time in Boston, Lugo's defensive skills steadily eroded, and he'd made seven errors in 97 chances this season.

Theo Epstein, who signed Lugo, referred to the shortstop's abbreviated tenure as "A lesson learned, for sure.’’

“Sometimes the best organizations make mistakes,” said Epstein. “It was a free-agent signing that didn’t work out. We ended up paying for past performance, not current performance. It was a mistake, and as the decision maker, that’s on me. We’ll move on. We’re a better organization having gone through it and we’ll make better decisions going forward.”

It was always hard to understand Epstein's "man crush" on Lugo. What compelled Epstein to bid against only himself, and offer a pretty average player a four-year, $36 million contract?

After all, Lugo batted a mere .219 with the Dodgers before Eptein made his bid. And he had never scored more than 83 runs, hit more than 15 homers, driven in more than 75 runs, or even batted .300 before joining the Red Sox.

Yet Epstein saw him as the solution to the problem that shortstop had become in Boston.

But Lugo followed up his dismal tenure in LA by batting just .237 in is first year with the Red Sox. And though he raised his average to .268 last season, he was the worst hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position, hitting just .139.

Epstein says his goal is to build the organization from within so it doesn’t have to rely on the free-agent market. Aside from Lowrie, he says organizational players, such as Argenis Diaz and Yamaico Navarro, along with soon-to-be-signed Jose Iglesias and Jose Vinicio, are the likely shortstops of the future.

“You dabble in free agency, sometimes these things happen,’’ Epstein said. “That’s kind of the nature of the beast. We’re trying to grow the organization to a point where we don’t have to go out and get a free agent. We’re probably closer to that point now than we were two or three offseasons ago.’’

We can only hope he's right.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pedro Martinez: Never Can Say Goodbye

Like Other Greats Before Him, Pedro Just Can't Walk Away

It's tough seeing great athletes get old.

To see a legend in any sport become faded and ineffective is sad, and it's a reminder that we too are getting older. For so many years the elite players seem eternally youthful, vigorous and mighty. At times they can appear almost superhuman.

But, inevitably, age sets in, injuries take their toll, and performance declines.

For many premier athletes, it's difficult to know when to hang 'em up and say goodbye. When retirement appears to be the obvious choice to the rest of us, the player is still relatively young and still possesses the fire to play.

It's got to be tough to be told you're old and over the hill when you're not even halfway through your projected life span.

Many athletes are unprepared to give up their true passion – the thing that gave them fame, wealth, glory and even their identity. Most have been playing since childhood, have known no other life, held no other job, and just can't imagine living without the game.

Obviously this describes Pedro Martinez. He is a true competitor who loves a challenge.

However, over the last three seasons, Pedro's record is 17-15. In 2006 his ERA reached 4.48 and last season it leapt to 5.61, almost twice has career ERA.

Despite posting a 5-6 record and only 87 strikeouts through 109 innings in 20 starts last season, apparently Pedro can't let go and wants to prove that he's still got it.

After letting it be known that he wanted to pitch again this year, a few teams were intrigued enough to take a look. All but one said, "No thanks."

This week, the Phillies signed the future Hall of Famer to a one-year, $1 million deal. It was quite a come down for a player who was seeking a pro-rated $5 million dollar pact. Pedro had previously been playing under a four-year, $53 million contract that expired during the offseason.

After telling reportes this spring that he wouldn't accept the one-year, $1 million offer that his former Mets teammate Tom Glavine signed with the Braves, Pedro ultimately did just that.

Apparently, reality got in the way of other plans. But reality clearly isn't dictating any of Pedro's actions these days.

We've seen this movie before. Too many great athlestes have stayed around too long, embarrassing themselves and diminishing their great legacies in the process: Willie Mays, OJ Simpson, Joe Namath, Emmitt Smith, Mario Lemieux, Muhammed Ali, and Evander Holyfield all come to mind. Nobody likes to see former greats look feeble and humbled.

It will be unfortunate if Pedro blemishes his stellar career by continuing to pitch the way he did last year, or the past few years, when his shoulder was toast.

The 37-year-old has a career record of 214-99, and a .684 winning percentage – the third highest of the modern, Post WW II era, behind only Whitey Ford’s .690 and Don Gullett’s .686. He entered 2008 tied with Ford, but fell behind due to his poor and ineffective play.

No matter, Pedro has the second highest winning percentage in Major League history for pitchers with at least 200 career victories.

Despite his injuries and diminished performance over the past three seasons, Pedro has nothing left to prove. Despite his comparatively small stature, he was a giant of the game and reached the pinnacle of the sport on many levels.

If he didn't pitch again, Pedro would have joined Bob Caruthers and Al Spaulding as the only pitchers with more than 200 wins and fewer than 100 losses in their careers. So much for that distinction.

Yet Pedro is one of 21 pitchers who has a career record 100+ games over .500.

He also has the best ever career adjusted ERA, which measures the pitcher’s career ERA against his league’s ERA over the pitcher’s entire career. On average, throughout his career, Pedro’s ERA has been 1.68 points below the league average.

He is also just the 15th pitcher in MLB history with 3,000 strikeouts, and just the fourth to reach the milestone with fewer than 1000 walks (752). In addition, he is just one of three pitchers (Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson) to record 3000 Ks in fewer than 3000 innings.

When you consider that he pitched during the greatest offensive period in baseball history, it's all quite amazing.

But he is not that same pitcher anymore, and never again will be. Many of us will choose to remember Pedro for what he was during his prime, rather than what he is now. It's too bad he can't do the same.

It's so much better to remember the Pedro who was so dominant from 1997-2005, rather than the worn out, broken down pitcher we witnessed over the last three years.

As Perdro himself noted, "I gave it up the last few years. I wasn't the same Pedro Martinez that you're accustomed to seeing. . . . I think I was too brave sometimes. I was stupid sometimes for pitching and knowing that I wasn't in the regular health that you should be in. . . . The last few years have been horrible."

True, true, and true.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wakefield to Make First All Star Appearance

If there's one player Red Sox fans will feel happiest for and most proud of this Tuesday, it will be Tim Wakefield.

The 17-year veteran was one of six Red Sox players selected to represent the club at this year's mid-summer classic, joining Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon.

With the notable exception of Wakefield, none of them is older than 30. Yet the elder statesman is the only first-timer among them.

The 42-year-old Wakefield became the oldest player to make his first All-Star team since Satchel Paige. Perhaps the greatest Negro League pitcher of all time, Paige went to his first Major League All-Star Game in 1952 at the age of 46.

Jamie Moyer (40 in 2003) and Connie Marrero (40 in 1951) are the only other players to become All-Stars for the first time at age 40 or older.

For Wakefield it is a career achievement, and one he's longed dreamed of.

"When you go and play professional baseball, you always want to make an All-Star team," said Wakefield. "I've had opportunities, but have just never gotten the chance."

Though Wakefield wasn't voted in by his peers, AL All-Star manager Joe Maddon of the Rays personally selected the knuckleballer. And after 17 years in the majors, the veteran pitcher is grateful.

"Obviously, when I see Maddon, I'll thank him deeply for the opportunity to represent not only the Red Sox but the American League at the All-Star Game. I'm very excited about it," said Wakefield of the honor.

The All Star selection is just the latest in what's been a season of milestone's for Wakefield, who has now made the most career starts of any Red Sox pitcher (384) as well as the most career starts at Fenway (191).

Never having won more than 17 games in any season (which he's done twice), Wakefield enters the break tied for the Major League lead with 11 wins, to go along with just 3 losses, Before the year is through, Wakefield could cap his highlight season by reaching 20 victories.

Wakefield has undoubtedly benefitted from solid offensive support, with the Red Sox averaging more than six runs a game when he has taken the mound.

And while his 4.31 ERA and 61/37 K/BB ratio aren't typical All Star material, Wakefield's 12 quality starts are just one shy of Josh Beckett's for the staff lead. And they're good enough for 15th in the AL.

The wily veteran has been consistent all season long, failing to pitch into the 6th inning just three times in 17 starts, and giving up more than three earned runs in just six of those starts.

The All Star selection is a crowning jewel in a long career that has already seen two World Series victories. And before the season is over, Wakefield may have won his 200th career game, pitched his 3000th career inning, and collected his 2000th career strikeout.

Not bad for a guy who has long been viewed as an end of the rotation starter, and a one-pitch, one-trick pony. Needless to say, that one pitch has clearly served him well.

As always, there will be many story lines on Tuesday evening. But seeing a 42-year-old make his first All Star appearance will surely be the feel-good story of the game, and one of the most compelling of the season – not just for Red Sox fans, but for all fans of baseball.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

With Smoltz, is This as Good as it Gets?

John Smoltz came to Boston with very impressive credentials; 210 wins, 154 saves, a 3.26 ERA, and 3,011 strike outs. In fact, Smoltz is the only pitcher in history with a combination of 200 wins and 150 saves.

Red Sox Nation was ecstatic; a future first ballot Hall of Famer would be taking the mound every fifth day from June through September, and hopefully in October as well.

That was the whole intention in the Sox' signing of Smoltz in the first place; October - the post-season.

But there were a few red flags from the outset. For starters, Smoltz is 42 and coming off major shoulder surgery. The veteran's right labrum, the one that secures his throwing arm, was repaired last June. His baseball future was immediately placed in jeopardy, so much that the Braves decided to end their 20-year association with him.

However, Smoltz had previously undergone four separate surgeries on his pitching elbow, and had come back strong after each. He missed the entire 2000 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but moved to the bullpen upon his return and recorded 154 saves over three-plus seasons as the Braves' closer.

The difference this time was that he was over the age of 40, when the body loses its ability to heal as quickly, or as fully.

But the Red Sox and their fans were cautiously optimistic. In the case of many fans, perhaps overly optimistic.

Though it's a pretty small sample size, Smoltz's early results are not encouraging.

After three starts, Smoltz is 0-2 with a 6.60 ERA. It wasn't until his most recent start, on Monday, that he finally made it to the sixth inning. In 15 innings so far this season, Smoltz has allowed 20 hits and 11 earned runs.

Yes, it's early and, as noted, the sample size is still small. But the Red Sox have to prepare themselves for the possibility that this is as good as it gets. One way or the other, Smoltz's best years are behind him now. That's generally the case with 42-year-old pitchers, particularly those returning from reconstructive surgery.

Indeed, Jamie Moyer (46), Randy Johnson (45) and Tim Wakefield (42) are still pitching, but only Wakefield is doing so effectively. Johnson is now on the DL. Both he and Moyer look like they are best-suited for something other than playing baseball at this point.

The Sox still have high hopes for Smoltz, but it's probably best for the team and its fans to temper those hopes, if they haven't been already.

Smoltz hasn't forgotten how to pitch, and he may well have some successful, if not dominant, outings ahead of him. But it's a good bet that he'll continue to struggle and to feel his age.

It's important to remember that the Red Sox knew what they were getting from the beginning. Theo Epstein consistently referred to Smoltz as a "low cost, high reward" signing.

The Red Sox were fully aware of Smoltz's health history from Day One and were operating under the auspices of caveat emptor. Though they were aware, the reality may now be setting in.

Hopefully Smoltz is just getting warmed up and is poised for a strong second half.

Time will tell.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Papelbon Makes Red Sox History

In just his fourth season as the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon has already made a place for himself in the Sox’ record book.

With his 20th save in 22 chances Wednesday, Papelbon became the club’s all-time saves leader with #133.

Starting in 2006, when he recorded 35 saves (the third highest total ever for a rookie closer) Papelbon has steam-rolled past his predecessors, continually moving up the team's all-time saves list.

Papelbon is the first Boston closer to ever have two 30-save seasons, and he did it in back-to-back years. Naturally, he is also the first Red Sox closer to have three 30-save seasons. And he is more than two-thirds of the way there again this year before reaching the All Star break.

Papelbon got his 100th save last season, and it was only a matter of staying healthy before he surpassed the club’s previous saves leader, Bob “The Steamer” Stanley.

Stanley amassed 132 career saves over 13 seasons with the Sox, and held the team record for 20 years since retiring in 1989.

Stanley was a product of another era, and frequently threw long relief and had numerous two and three-inning saves. In fact, Stanley appeared in a club record 637 games, a mind-boggling number when you consider that the next closest Sox pitcher is Tim Wakefield, who has appeared in 519 games in his 15-year tenure with the Sox.

Yes, the save wasn’t even a recognized stat until 1969, so for more than 60 years of franchise history no one cared about or recorded such information.

But in the modern game, in which pitchers operate under fairly strict 100-pitch counts that are usually reached within six innings, the closer has become a much more important position.

Possessing a fastball that has been clocked at 99 miles per hour, plus a nasty split and changeup, Papelbon has been among the game's premier closers since first debuting in the role.

And now, without a doubt, he is the best closer that Red Sox fans have ever seen in a Boston uniform.

Last season, Papelbon leap-frogged past Derek Lowe, Jeff Reardon, Ellis Kinder, and Dick Radatz, in succession. Next up was Stanley, and Papelbon now stands alone in the Sox’ record book as the club’s all-time saves king.

It’s an impressive feat, considering that it was achieved in only four seasons as a closer.

Papelbon is at the top of his game. He possesses a strong will to compete and to win, and he’s got the confidence to match. It can be seen each time he takes the mound.

A fierce competitor with a bulldog mentality, the young righty is absolutely dominating and often overwhelms opposing batters. For most, just making contact probably feels like an accomplishment. Papelbon is averaging more than a strike per inning in his career, and more impressively has a K/BB ratio of 4.3 to 1.

The 28-year-old is one of five Red Sox closers have notched at least 40 saves in a season; Reardon, Ugueth Urbina, Lowe, and Tom Gordon - who had a club-record 46 saves in 1998 - are the others.

Papelbon could potentially break that record by season's end, and if not this year, it’s a good bet that it’s just a matter of time.

It would be quite fitting.

The young phenom is both respected and feared throughout baseball, and every team would rather have him than face him.

The numbers just keep piling up, and with each additional save Papelbon continues to stake his place in the Red Sox' storied history.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.