Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Marco Scutaro Provides Talent, Grit, Value to Red Sox

Throughout the winter, there was persistent talk that the Red Sox might shop Marco Scutaro. However, all that talk originated from outside the organization.

Some fans are pining for Jose Iglesias to take over as the Opening Day shortstop, despite the fact that the 21-year-old Cuban has never played a game above Double A.

But while the young phenom may be a fully developed fielder, he is still an unfinished product offensively and needs to continue his development at the minor league level.

And Jed Lowrie is the perfect utility man for the Sox. Possessing the unique ability to play all four infield positions, Lowrie will provide valuable rest to each of the infield starters and is the perfect insurance policy in case of injury.

Having Lowrie as his utility man will allow Terry Francona to take advantage of his potent bat a few games each week.

For a variety of reasons, Scutaro, who is entering the final year of his two-year deal, is the ideal shortstop for the Red Sox in 2011.

Given that he'll be making just $5 million this season (with a $6 million club option / $3 million player option / $1.5 million buyout for 2012), Scutaro is a steal.

But Scutaro is more than just affordable.

Last year, Scutaro led all Major League shortstops with 38 doubles, even though he played most of the season with a bum shoulder. The next closest shortstop had 33 doubles.

And among Major League shortstops, Scutaro was second with 632 at-bats, second with 174 hits and third with 92 runs. He was also sixth in total bases, sixth in walks, 10th in RBI, and 17th in strike outs.

By these measures, Scutaro was among the best shortstops in the game last season.

While some may believe that Scuatro had an off season in 2010, that just isn't so. Scutaro had a career-highs in hits (174), doubles (38) and total bases (245).

Despite a pinched nerve in his neck that affected his shoulder and caused him great pain, Scutaro posted numbers similar to those he put up in Toronto the previous year.

With the Jays in 2009, Scutaro hit .282 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs. With the Sox in 2010, he hit .275 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs.

However, Scutaro was more than just a solid offensive player in 2010.

Scutaro's .965 fielding percentage was 12th best in baseball among shortstops with at least 500 total chances. Most of his 18 errors were throwing errors, the product of that troubled shoulder. The inflammation in Scutaro's right rotator cuff got so bad that it forced his move from shortstop to second base for most of September.

All indications are that he is now fully recovered.

Former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi appreciates the 35-year-old shortstop's talent and grit.

"When he's healthy, he's one of the three best defensive shortstops in the league," said Ricciard last year. "He's one of the best shortstops, period. He's a guy that's going to be able to play at this level until he's 37 or 38. He works at it. He's a really smart player. He's a great baserunner. He keeps improving [his on-base percentage rose from .332 to .341 to .379 over the previous three seasons]. He grinds at-bats [he led all shortstops in pitches per at-bat in 2009]. He can do a lot of things."

The bottom line is that, considering what the Red Sox are paying him, Scutaro is a steal. And he's a gamer. The guy simply doesn't take days off.

Despite his painful and nagging injury, Scutaro played in 150 games last season. All he does is go out and play hard every day.

How tough is Scutaro? Put it this way; he's never been on the DL. Enough said.

In Scutaro, the Red Sox have the perfect bridge to Iglesias and they will be well-served with the nine-year veteran as their starting shortstop in 2011, and perhaps even 2012.

Last season, White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez won the Silver Slugger Award.

Ramirez, 29, hit .282 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs in 156 games. He led AL shortstops in average, slugging percentage (.431), homers and total bases (252), and he ranked second in RBIs.

For comparison's sake, Scutaro hit .275 with 11 homers and 56 RBI in 150 games. Scutaro also posted a .388 SLG.% and 245 total bases.

As you can see, the difference between the Silver Slugger winner and Scutaro wasn't that dramatic. And you have to wonder how much better Scutaro would have been if healthy.

This season, the Red Sox should find out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Red Sox Have High Hopes For Ryan Kalish In 2012, And Beyond

As an emergency call-up to a depleted Red Sox team last season, 22-year-old Ryan Kalish impressed just about everyone.

In 53 games, the highly-touted Kalish hit .252 with four home runs and 24 RBI.

Given more at-bats, that average will surely rise. And scouts believe Kalish has 20 home run power. The New Jersey native also exhibited great run-producing capability last September; at mid-month he had 14 RBIs in 12 games.

Kalish has a strong arm, which makes him an obvious candidate to replace JD Drew in right field next season. However, the talented young outfielder has the versatility to play all three outfield positions.

Though he doesn't possess blazing speed, Kalish is quick and possesses excellent instincts. This combination allows him to cover plenty of ground in center field, as he displayed last year playing in place of the injured Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron.

And guess who led the Red Sox in stolen bases last season? If you answered Ryan Kalish, you're right. Flashing quickness and an aggressive approach on the base paths, Kalish swiped 10 bases in just 53 games last year.

These varied skill-sets have many Red Sox observers looking forward to seeing Kalish in the outfield every day next season, after Drew's contract expires.

There's the hope that Kalish will develop into a star player, the likes of which haven't been seen in right field since Dwight Evans left town.

Here's the history of Red Sox right fielders in the post-Evans era:

1990-1992: Tom Brunansky
1993: Carlos Quintanna
1994: Billy Hatcher
1995-1997: Troy O'Leary (played outfield with Sox from '95-'01)
1998: Darren Bragg
1999-2006: Trot Nixon
2007-2011: JD Drew

None of these players was truly great.

Brunansky came to the Sox past his prime and is best remembered for his diving catch of an Ozzie Guillen liner in the ninth inning of the final game of the 1990 season, which sent the Sox to the ALCS.

Red Sox fans loved Nixon for his 'Dirt Dog' style of play. However, despite having three solid years in a row (2001-2003), Nixon never hit 30 homers or drove in 100 runs. And he scored 100 runs just once. Despite that, he was actually better — statistically, at least — than Drew.

Unfortunately, Drew has always been hamstrung by the five-year, $70 million contract he signed prior to the 2007 season.

However, you simply can't blame a guy for accepting the best offer available to him. Theo Epstein had a man-crush on Drew and doggedly pursued him. Ultimately. Epstein was bidding against only himself when he gave Drew the aforementioned contract. Yet, it's now abundantly clear that it was too much, and too long.

Drew has always been heralded for his OPS, a combination of on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage. However, OBP only matter matters if you score and slugging only matters if you drive in runs.

Drew does neither particularly well. During his four years with the Sox, Drew has never driven in, or scored, 100 runs. His best efforts were 68 and 84, respectively. That should explain why so many fans have always felt disenchanted by Drew.

Considering the past 20 years of history in right field at Fenway, it's easy to see why people are so excited about Kalish.

The homegrown talent offers the unique mix of multiple tools, youth, tenacity, and a full-tilt playing style that should endear him to Red Sox fans for years to come.

The notion of such a young player taking over right field next year, at just the age of 23 — and possibly holding down the position for a decade or more — is very exciting indeed.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Beckett & Lackey Key To Red Sox 2011 Aspirations

After an offseason of major acquisitions, and the return of a group of star players from injury, the consensus view is that the Red Sox will field a potent offense this season.

And, on paper at least, the Sox bullpen has been upgraded with the additions of Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and others.

Perhaps the most pressing question about the Red Sox as they enter this season is the strength of their rotation.

Going into last season, most observers viewed the Boston rotation as perhaps the best in the game. But Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka both suffered injuries and did not pitch well when seemingly healthy.

For his part, John Lackey came face-to-face with the relentless nature of AL East lineups.

As spring training unfolds, the big unanswered question is whether Beckett and Lackey, in particular, will have bounce-back seasons in 2011. Both are big, right-handed Texans, who under-performed in 2010.

But that's where last year's similarities end. Lackey doesn't need to bounce back so much as improve on 2010.

Lackey reported to spring training looking trimmer than last year, saying he dropped 11 pounds by doing an hour of cardio per day (20 minutes on a treadmill, 20 minutes on a bike and then 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer).

All that hard work reduced his girth from 252 pounds to 241, and hopefully that weight loss will benefit him this season.

Clearly, Lackey needed to make some changes after his first year in Boston was widely viewed as a disappointment.

The big right-hander sported a hefty 4.40 ERA, his highest since 2004. Lackey also allowed 233 hits and tied his career-high with 72 walks. That amounted to 305 base-runners and resulted in a 1.42 WHIP, the highest of his nine-year career.

Additionally, lefties hit Lackey particularly hard, going .298/.364/.438 against him.

On the upside, Lackey led the Red Sox with 33 starts and 21 quality starts last season. Consequently, the former Angel also led the Sox with 215 innings pitched.

Additionally, the Red Sox' newcomer posted a respectable 14-11 record last season. Just 14 American League pitchers won more games than Lackey in 2010. And his 14 wins were tied for second-highest of his career, behind the 19 victories he posted in 2007.

For comparison's sake, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Ervin Santana and Carl Pavano were the only other AL starters who posted at least 14 wins and 215 innings last season.

However, Lackey also had the benefit of the 11th-best run support in the AL. In fact, Lackey had six wins last season in which he did not make a quality start (at least six innings pitched, allowing three or fewer runs). That amounted to almost half of his wins in 2010.

The hope is that Lackey can build on the momentum he developed in the second half of last season, when his ERA fell to 3.97 and his WHIP to 1.22. Lackey also fanned more than eight batters per nine innings in his last 14 outings, while cutting down his walk rate significantly.

Beckett, on the other hand, is coming off an utter disaster in 2010. If Beckett had only pitched the way that Lackey did last year, his season wouldn't have been such an absolute failure.

Last year, by far the worst of his nine full seasons, Beckett made just 21 starts and pitched just 127.2 innings.

The results looked like this:

Record: 6-6
ERA: 5.78
Opponent Avg: .292
Strikeouts: 116
WHIP: 1.54
Quality starts: 10

Beckett's ERA and WHIP testify to how truly awful he was last year. But the fact that he made just 10 quality starts in 21 attempts also speaks volumes.

When Beckett joined the Red Sox before the 2006 season, he was viewed as an elite, front-of-the-rotation starter who would anchor the Red Sox rotation for years to come. Over his five seasons with the Marlins, Beckett had posted a 3.16 ERA.

However, over his five seasons in Boston, Beckett owns a 4.39 ERA. Even if you exclude his disastrous 2010 campaign, Beckett's ERA from 2006-2009 was still 4.04, hardly the stuff of an ace. Additionally, Beckett has yet to strike out 200 batters in any season in the majors.

To this point, there has been just one season in which Beckett has lived up to all the hype and performed like the stud the Red Sox thought they were getting when they traded Hanley Ramirez for him.

In 2007, Beckett went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, 194 Ks and a 1.14 WHIP.

Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, Beckett has reached 200 innings in just three of his five seasons with the Red Sox.

It's safe to assume that Beckett feels an awesome sense of responsibility to the team and wants to live up to the four-year, $68 million contract he signed last April. The big righty is viewed as a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse, particularly amongst Red Sox pitchers.

Yet, it's difficult to know what to expect from Beckett this season. He has alternated between good and disappointing seasons since arriving in Boston. It's been widely noted that he seems to pitch well only in odd years, which may be a good omen for 2011.

The Red Sox can only hope so, because they have hitched their wagon to Beckett, who will be critical to their success and post-season aspirations this year.