Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tim Wakefield in Striking Distance of Red Sox Records

With 382 career starts for the Red Sox, Tim Wakefield now needs just one more to pass Roger Clemens for the most in club history. And the knuckleballer is just five wins from matching Clemens' Fenway Park record of 95.

Clemens, long the team leader in so many pitching categories, has slowly – and surprisingly – been encroached upon by his former teammate.

If he plays one more season -- which seems likely at this point -- Wakefield will pass Clemens in innings pitched, becoming the club's new all-time leader in that category, as well. As it stands, Wakefield needs just 100 more innings to match Clemens.

Throughout his 15 seasons with the Red Sox, Wakefield has certainly established himself as an innings eater, pitching at least 200 innings in five seasons and 195 in another.

And Wakefield is just the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record at least 1800 career strikeouts.

Cy Young never reached 1700 strike outs in his legendary career with the Sox, nor did Pedro Martinez, Luis Tiant, or Smokey Joe Wood. In fact, the only other Sox pitcher to reach the milestone was Clemens, who fanned 2590 batters while with the Sox. It appears that Clemens' mark will be safe for years to come.

However, over the past couple of seasons, Wakefield has passed Clemens in a few areas he'd rather not have. It's part of the mixed bag that you get with Tim Wakefield. You take the bad with the good.

For instance, by rather wide margins, Wakefield is the club's all-time leader in a variety of less than desirable categories: 148 losses; 2571 hits allowed; 351 home runs allowed; 998 walks; and 1287 earned runs.

Much of that is the by-product of his longevity; if you stick around long enough the numbers pile up – for better and for worse. The reality is, Wakefield's place in the team's record book is more a testament to endurance than to greatness.

But attaining double-digit wins in 11 different seasons is quite an accomplishment, and Wakefield should be praised and congratulated for all he's done for the Red Sox through the years.

Incredibly, what was once deemed unimaginable now seems probable; having totaled 174 career victories with the Red Sox, Wakefield has a reasonable shot of surpassing Young and Clemens, who are tied with 192 wins apiece. He'll have to pitch at least another season to do so, but for a knuckleballer it's clearly doable.

As one of only three AL pitchers with 10 wins, Wakefield is having a career year and could well reach 20 wins before the season is over.

Just imagine the interest, the press, and the fanfare should Wakefield surpass Clemens and Young next season. The organization would just love and celebrate it.

We may hold our collective breath whenever he starts, or when one of his knucklers flutters away from the catcher and toward the backstop. But we should appreciate what's left of Wakefield's rollercoaster-like ride with the Sox. Soon to be 43, and on a revolving, year-to-year contract, this won't go on much longer.

Enjoy it for what it's worth. Statistically speaking, we're watching one of the Red Sox all-time greats. And there's no doubt that we're also watching one of the finest, most gracious men to have ever worn the Red Sox uniform.

You won't find an athlete who does more for his community, or who gets more praise from his teammates, than Tim Wakefield. Red Sox Nation should give him thanks for all he's done, both on and off the field.

And when he passes Clemens during his next start this week, he should be rightfully congratulated for such an impressive accomplishment.

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

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Matsuzaka's Meltdown Continues; Placed on DL

Daisuke Matsuzaka's season-long struggles continued Friday night.

In yet another dismal performance, Matsuzaka lasted just four innings, unable to record a single out in the fifth. After allowing consecutive doubles, he was mercifully removed from the game. In just four-plus innings, Matsuzaka gave up six runs on eight hits, and walked four; that's a total of 10 base runners, if you weren't keeping track.

Due to the rough outing, Matsuzaka has finally pitched himself out of the starting rotation.

Matsuzaka's ERA has now ballooned to 8.23 and he has zero quality starts in eight tries. He has yet to last more than 5 2/3 innings in any appearance this season. Now a woeful 1-5, Matsuzaka has yielded fewer than four runs in only two of his eight starts.

As Matsuzaka acknowledged after his latest loss, “If I keep going like this, I have no right to be part of this rotation.’’

That's the most accuracy he's had this season.

Manager Terry Francona apparently agreed, announcing that Matsuzaka is on the 15-day DL, and that there is no timetable for his return. Medical tests and an MRI have been conducted and the diagnosis has rather opaquely been described as a right shoulder strain. Perhaps this is the cause of his ineptitude, perhaps it's simply a smokescreen.

This season, Matsuzaka simply hasn't thrown strikes with any consistency and has no command of his fastball, which he himself acknowledged.

“I couldn’t get strikes with either my fastball or my breaking balls, and I had a hard time hitting my locations with any of my pitches," said Matsuzaka through his interpreter after the game.

The Japanese righty now admits that his troubles may be attributable to pitching in the World Baseball Classic for his native country.

Whatever the source of the problem is, Matsuzaka looks completely confused and lacking in confidence each time he takes the mound.

When the Red Sox invested more than $103 million to obtain Matsuzaka three years ago, they were sure they were getting an ace. Matsuzaka looks like anything but that this season.

In 2007, his first year in the Majors, Matsuzaka went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA. While the win total was impressive, the number of losses was less than desirable, as was the ERA. But a period of adjustment was expected and it was anticipated that Matsuzaka would get better with more experience against big league hitters.

And last year, at least on the face of it, that seemed to happen. Matsuzaka posted a remarkable 18-3 record to go along with an equally remarkable 2.90 ERA.

Yet there were reasons for genuine concern. Matsuzaka's innings per start dropped from 6.4 in 2007 to just 5.8 in 2008. The shortened appearances were a product of high pitch counts and a lack of command that led to 94 walks, fourth highest in the Majors.

The striking reality lurking underneath the flashy 18 wins was that they were achieved in the fewest innings ever thrown by any pitcher to have at least 18 wins. Ever. In the history of baseball.

Great things were expected again this year. Yet, there were concerns about what pitching in the WBC, with so little preparation, would do to Matsuzaka's arm and his season. Perhaps we now know.

So far this season, Matsuzaka has been impotent. It's simply painful to watch him pitch, and you can't help but feel bad for him. He's been highly successful at every stage of his career; high school superstar, star of the Japanese Pacific League, and two time MVP of the WBC.

But he's now facing the kind of adversity that is completely unfamiliar and foreign to him. This is unchartered ground for Matsuzaka. He is a stranger to failure.

At this point, it's impossible to find anything to feel optimistic about as far as Matsuzaka is concerned. Cumulatively, batters are hitting an astounding .378 against him, and he his 2.20 WHIP is nothing short of absurd.

Last season Matsuzaka allowed just 12 home runs the entire season; this year he's already given up eight long balls in just eight starts.

Yes, Matsuzaka won 33 games over the previous two seasons, the fourth most in baseball. However, of the 12 pitchers to win at least 30 games in that span, Matsuzaka ranks last in innings pitched.

At an average salary of just under $9 million per season, for a pitcher who is averaging just five innings per start over the past two seasons, Matsuzaka makes a ton of money for very little work. Perhaps that could be said of any professional athlete, but it's especially true with Matsuzaka.

I suggested in a previous post that the Sox might consider dealing Matsuzaka if the right offer was made. But at this point, any trade value that Matsuzaka previously possessed has now been ruined.

As of now, Matsuzaka doesn't deserve to be in the starting rotation, or on the staff for that matter. Some time on the DL, followed by a rehab assignment, could build his confidence, while helping him recover both physically and mentally. As I said previously, the big league mound is no place to try to work out a pitcher's issues, be they mechanical or psychological.

With John Smoltz set to make his Red Sox debut this week, the time for Matsuzaka to be replaced in the rotation has finally arrived.

The truth is, it's long overdue.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2009

To Make Room, Matsuzaka as Bait?

With John Smoltz set to begin the 2009 season after coming off his current 30-day rehab assignment, the Red Sox have a roster decision to make. With five healthy starters already, and a potential Hall of Famer raring to go, something's gotta give.

So far this season, the weakest link in the Red Sox rotation has clearly been Daisuke Matsuzaka. At 1-4, with 7.55 ERA, Matsuzaka has been more than just a disappointment; he's been a disaster. Matsuzaka has yet to give the Sox a single quality start this year, and it's mid-June. In addition, just like last season, Matsuzaka has already been on the DL.

Since returning from his shoulder injury on May 22, Matsuzaka is 1-3 with a 6.20 ERA. And each time he pitches, the Japanese righty is a drain on the Red Sox stellar bullpen, lasting fewer than five innings per start.

Since joining the Red Sox three years ago, Matsuzaka has been plagued by high pitch counts and excessive walks. Matsuzaka's innings per start have declined consistently each year:

2007: 6.4 innings per start.
2008: 5.8 innings per start
2009: 4.4 innings per start

And the high walk totals have contributed to the high pitch counts and early exits. Last year, Matsuzaka's 94 BB were the fourth most in the Majors. In 2007, his 80 walks were the 12th highest in baseball. In all, Matsuzaka has already issued 188 walks in his brief career.

At this point, the Sox expectations of him are so low that other members of the starting rotation volunteered - in advance - to relieve him last night, anticipating a short start. Brad Penny and Tim Wakefield both offered to take the pressure off an already overworked bullpen that had played a key role in the Sox 13 inning victory the previous evening.

If there is one starter whose performance and statistics absolutely scream for replacement, it's obviously Matsuzaka. The Sox could claim that Matsuzaka is not fully recovered from the right shoulder strain that landed him in the DL in April; and perhaps that's just the case. After last night's game, Matsuzaka cryptically mentioned that he's having problems, declining to elaborate. Putting him back on the DL would allow the Sox to create the roster spot for Smoltz, and give time for Matsuzaka and the pitching coaches to work out his issues.

Without question, Matsuzaka is not the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting when they paid $51.11 million to the Seibu Lions for the right to negotiate a $52 million, six-year contract. Not quite half way into that pact, Matsuzaka looks grossly overpaid, and the Sox looked suckered.

Matsuzaka is maddeningly frustrating. At times he blows hitters away with a powerful fastball and looks dominant. Other times he can't seem to find the plate or trust his stuff, instead choosing to nibble at the corners. But if a pitcher isn't consistently throwing strikes, hitters won't get fooled into swinging out of the strike zone and help him out. That's Matsuzaka's problem.

Matsuzaka was famously advertised for throwing the "gyroball", and for having a six or seven-pitch repertoire. False advertising. At best, the righty appears to possess a trio of fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, and cutter), to go along with a slider and a good curveball. He occasionally throws an ineffective change-up and splitter, pitches he therefore doesn't trust; and for good reason — they're usually not in the strike zone (42% and 35% of the time, respectively).

That's the overall problem; Matsuzaka doesn't trust himself or the defense behind him. He tries to paint the corners, fearful of giving batters anything decent to hit. In the process doesn't throw strikes. Matsuzaka frequently finds himself in deep counts, resulting in high pitch totals early in games and too many walks.

While there has been plenty of talk of the Sox dealing Penny to make room for Smoltz, a good case could be made for offering Matsuzaka instead. Perhaps he could be packaged with Julio Lugo. It's hard to tell if other clubs would see Lugo as the requisite dead weight to obtain a starting pitcher who won 33 games over his first two seasons, or view Matsuzaka as the necessary sweetener for taking Lugo.

With his weighty contract (roughly $32 million remaining over the next 3 1/2 years) inconsistency, injury history and the number of pitches his arm and shoulder have famously endured since high school, it's hard to determine just what exactly Matsuzaka's trade value would be. He's a proven starter in the tough AL East, yet he can't make it out of the fifth inning and may be poised for further injury and a brief career.

Any trade talk regarding Matsuzaka is nothing more than speculation and conjecture, simply making for good conversation. The reality is that Matsuzaka has a full no-trade clause in his contract. And despite his struggles this season, and how frustrating it has always been to watch him pitch since Day One, he is still just 28-years-old and went 18-3 last season with a 2.90 ERA. Many of those wins were despite himself, and the result of playing on an excellent team with a solid offense. But the Sox may not be ready to give up on him just yet.

Yet, they need to make room for Smoltz, and they have Clay Buchholz waiting in the wings while he mows down AAA hitters. The Sox may quietly inquire with Dice-K about a move to the more pitcher-friendly NL, and to a West Coast team that would place him a bit closer to his home in Japan.

If Matsuzaka agreed, I'm betting that Theo Epstein would gladly listen to any and all serious inquiries and/or offers.

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

Friday, June 12, 2009

JON LESTER SHINES AGAIN

With his 11 strike outs against the Phillies tonight, Jon Lester became the first lefty in Red Sox history to record double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive starts.

If a casual observer looked at Lester's 5-5 record and 5.09 ERA coming into tonight's game, he/she would be unimpressed. He or she would also be fooled. After a slow start this spring, Lester has been absolutely scorching as of late.

In his last three starts, Lester's line looks like this:

Innings / start 7.1
Runs 3
Earned Runs 3
Walks 8
Strikeouts 34
HR 0

Though his overall numbers obscure it, Lester's recent outings portray him as the burgeoning ace the Red Sox were sure they had in their rotation to start this season.

Going back to last year, Lester's growth and development has been remarkable. Gone are the days when he would throw 100 pitches in five or so innings, burdening himself by walking multiple batters along the way.

Long gone.

When Lester takes the mound these days, the Red Sox, and their fans, expect certain victory. Lester appears unfazed by this and seems immune to pressure. His confidence appears to be sky high, as well it should be, He's once again proving himself to be a stopper and a winner.

Though he didn't get the win (thanks to a Ryan Howard blast off Ramon Ramirez), Lester lowered his ERA to 4.76 and now has 96 Ks this season.

The 25-year-old actually appears to get stronger as the game goes on. Hopefully that same attribute will hold true as the season grinds on. A healthy and potent Lester will make all the difference to the Red Sox in October.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Taking Stock of the Red Sox

Fifty-seven games into the 2009 season, the Red Sox are 33-24, identical to the record they posted one year ago through the same number of games.

The Sox are just over a third of the way through their 162 game grind, and they find themselves a game out of first place with the best home record in the AL (18-8).

Going into the season, the Sox were projected to have one of the finest, if not the best, rotations in baseball. So far, they've been pretty good, with some noticeable hiccups. The Sox are tied for fourth in the AL with a 4.27 team ERA, thanks to a bullpen which is simply the best in baseball.

But that obscures the fact that the Sox starting five have been anything but stellar. In fact, they've been entirely lackluster. Josh Beckett (4.09), Tim Wakefield (4.50), Jon Lester (5.09), Brad Penny (5.85) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (7.33) have a combined ERA of 5.37.

Matsuzaka looks lost, surrendering 44 hits and 13 walks in just 27 innings, and has already lost more games than he did all last season.

Penny, though 5-2, has an ERA approaching six and is winning despite himself, owing his success to offensive support.

All of this provides some reason for concern, though the venerable John Smoltz and Clay Buchholz (4-0, 1.73 ERA at Pawtucket) lie in waiting.

Yet, there is additional reason for reassurance. Namely that after slow starts Beckett and Lester have been coming on as of late.

Josh Beckett Since May 5:

6 starts
4-0 record
2.40 ERA
14 walks
37 strike outs
6 quality starts
5-1 team record

And Lester, though 5-5, is coming off two absolutely dominating performances in which he threw a combined 15 innings, allowing just two runs on five hits. Oh, and then there were the whopping 23 K's. Lester leads the team with 85 strikeouts (in just 74.1 innings) and is on pace to break 200 this year.

And then there's the Red Sox bullpen, which has been lights out this season with a 2.76 ERA, the best in all of baseball. And it's been particularly good over the past month:

Since May 10
23 games
61.2 innings
1.91 ERA
12 home runs (T-Fewest in AL)

Over that period, Hideki Okajima rode a streak of 16.1 scoreless innings, the longest on the Sox this season. Oki has rediscovered the form that made him so successful two years ago. He's deceptive and able to keep hitters off balance. He doesn't throw hard, but he gets hitters out.

Perhaps the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise so far has been the Sox offense, which ranks fourth in the AL in runs scored (300), home runs (66) and OPS (.804). And they've done it without the man who was formerly their most potent hitter.

Surely, the biggest disappointment this year has been the incredible vanishing act of David Ortiz. The man once known as Big Papi is no longer a big time, big game hitter and now routinely comes up small at the plate. Ortiz is batting a miniscule .197, with 55 whiffs and countless weak pop outs.

Ortiz had his eyes checked this week and the results were positive. So it's not a vision issue, a la Jim Rice. Ortiz simply, and suddenly, seems to have about as much pop as the feeble Julio Lugo.

Over the last three years, Ortiz has seen his average fly ball distance significantly drop from 310 feet in 2007, to 275 in 2008, to just 261 feet this season. That's almost at 50 foot drop-off from 2007, the career year in which he hit a club record 52 home runs. What were once home run balls now drop innocently into outfielder's gloves.

Red Sox management has been especially patient, cognizant of what Ortiz has meant to the team and the city since he arrived in 2003. But their Job-like patience is likely wearing thin. Internal and external solutions to the gaping hole in the order that is Ortiz are surely being discussed.

All kinds of names have been bandied about as possible trade targets. Adrian Gonzalez and Victor Martinez are the most desirable mentioned so far, but either would come at a prohibitive price — namely Buchholz, or possibly Lars Anderson. If Andersen is as good as advertised, that could be a big loss since he's the only true power hitter in the system.

Martinez is an excellent hitter who is currently sixth in batting in the Majors (.344) and has 20-25 home run power. But he has inconsistent game calling skills and is 30 years old. He is not the youthful solution at catcher, though he can play first base.

The Sox have long coveted Gonzalez, but Padres GM Kevin Towers described the 27-year-old as untouchable, noting that he is a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise. With an MLB-best 22 dingers, even if made suddenly available, Gonzalez would generate wide interest and a huge asking price.

Yet, it's easy to envision the Sox anchoring him at first, Youkilis at third, and moving Mike Lowell to DH. Lowell is only under contract for one more year, and the team needs to think about the future anyway.

The Sox have had many inquiries about Buchholz and have never found any offers to be satisfactory. That's simply because good young pitching is harder to find than hitting, and it's what organizations build their teams around. Next year Wakefield, Smoltz and Penny could all be gone. The Sox will need Buchholz and he is poised for a good, long career, which he's only just beginning.

So the Sox will continue to listen to offers, and to make offers. Julio Lugo at half salary anyone? Good luck with that, Theo. The team presently has needs at DH and at shortstop. If Jed Lowrie gets healthy and returns soon, that would solve one problem.

Yet it seems inevitable that at least one trade will be executed, and room will still have to be created for Smoltz and/or Buchholz to join the rotation. Brad Penny, and his bloated ERA, is eligible to be traded one week from now. Despite his ERA, he may command some trade value. Pitching is always a prized commodity.

Undoubtedly, there will be some tinkering in order to make this competitive roster even better.

There is lots to like as is: Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedrioa and Jason Bay are all elite players and should be perennial All Stars for years to come. With his .302 average, Jacoby Ellsbury is proving he can hit Big League pitching and is ahead of last year's 50-steal pace. Mike Lowell is having as good a year as anyone could have reasonably expected. And Jason Varitek is on pace for 30 homers! WTF?

Yes, there are questions beyond Ortiz: Can George Kottaras ever be more than a once-a-week catcher and a .188 hitter? Can Rocco Baldelli, Mark Kotsay and JD Drew all stay healthy the rest of the season? Not likely.

But the Sox seem to have more answers than questions and appear to be built for the long haul and the post-season. With a wise trade or two, they could surely be a playoff team once again. And once you get there, who knows? Anything can happen.

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Francona Reaches Milestone

Red Sox Manager Records 500th Win Against Detroit

With the Red Sox 5-1 victory over the Tigers tonight, manager Terry Francona became just the third Red Sox skipper to win 500 games with the club. Francona joins the legendary Joe Cronin and Mike "Pinky" Higgins in this distinction.

Cronin, the former Sox shortstop, managed the club from 1935-1947, all but the last three seasons as a player-manager. He is the only manager in the Red Sox long and storied history with as many as 1,000 wins, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.

However, for all of his greatness as a player and success as a manager, Cronin never led the Red Sox to a World Series Victory.

Francona, on the other hand, led the Sox to two World Series victories in four years, including the team's first in 86 years. Furthermore, Francona managed his way to 500 wins in just 5 1/2 seasons, a rather impressive feat.

The professional Francona responded to the accomplishment in his customarily humble manner.

"That means I've been really lucky with an organization with a lot of players that have been very good and with a staff that helps me out more than I help them," the skipper said.

Francona has guided the Red Sox to the playoffs four times in his first five seasons, the only Sox manager to reach the postseason more than twice. He has won 90+ games four times with the Red Sox, the most in team history. And Francona also has the best winning percentage in team history, among managers with 400 or more games.

Manager Years Record

Joe Cronin 1935-1947 1,071-916

Pinky Higgins 1955-1959, 1960-1962 560-556

Terry Francona 2004-Present 500-362

Bill Carrigan 1913-1916, 1927-1929 489-500

Jimmy Collins 1901-1906 455-376

Jimy Williams 1997-2001 414-352

Don Zimmer 1976-1980 411-304