Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Red Sox Desperately Need a Shakeup

Mike Napoli says the Red Sox offensive woes this season are the result of being a very different lineup from last season.

"I mean we're not the same team as last year. We're different. We're just not the same," said the Red Sox first baseman. "Everyone keeps on comparing us to last year, but it's different guys in here. We've just got to figure it out."

However, in large part, the Sox are indeed the same team as last year's World Series winners — on paper at least.

Let's go around the diamond:

David Ortiz is back at DH.
David Ross is back at catcher, albeit in a backup role.
Napoli is back at first base.
Dustin Pedroia is back at second base.
Stephen Drew is back at shortstop.
Johnny Gomes is back in left field.
Daniel Nava is back in left and right fields.

The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to free agency, and Shane Victorino to the DL. But seven primary members of last year's lineup are still in place.

The Red Sox' problem is not the loss of Ellsbury and Salty; it's the abysmal performances of the guys that are still in the Sox lineup this season.

The Red Sox will be exactly halfway through the season after tonight's game, and most of the lineup's batting statistics are downright pathetic.

Just look at the numbers:

Napoli has just 9 homers, 11 doubles and 30 RBI.

Pedroia has 4 homers, 27 RBI and a slash line of .262/.334/.372.

Xander Bogaerts has 6 home runs, 19 RBI and a slash line of .254 /.334/.384.

Though David Ortiz has been the lineup's best run producer, with 19 home runs and 49 RBI, he has a slash line of .254/.355/.479, The former and the latter are well below his career averages.

A.J. Pierzynski has just 15 extra-base hits, to go along with a slash line of .250/.279/.353.

Jonny Gomes has just 11 extra-base hits and a slash line of .235/.335/.361.

Daniel Nava has just seven extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .223/.313/.308.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has 17 extra-base hits and a slash line of .209/.289/.298.

David Ross has eight extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .174/.237/.337.

The above numbers look like the stats of A-ball hitters trying to play in the majors.

Brock Holt, a minor league player that most fans were hardly familiar with prior to this season, is the team's best hitter.

The Sox rank 26th in the majors in scoring. Their .367 slugging mark is the worst in the AL, and is 28th in the majors.

Napoli (and perhaps some of his teammates as well) is in denial. The Red Sox problems have nothing to do with the guys that are no longer with the team and everything to do with the ones that still are.

To be clear, the Red Sox have just three players slugging over .400, which speaks volumes about how pathetic this lineup is.

We're halfway through the season, and just one Sox hitter has more than nine home runs.

Just two Red Sox hitters are batting above .262.

Need I say more?

Last year, almost every hitter in the lineup had a career year. Success bred more success. It became contagious.

This year, failure and ineptitude have bred more of the same. They have spread like viruses through the Sox lineup.

The Red Sox have been stricken by apathy and complacency. This team needs a trade to break the spell of listlessness that afflicts them.

It may be too late to make a playoff push, but, at the least, upper management should allow John Farrell to field a team each night that possesses some passion, fire and competency.

The current lineup is an embarrassment to this great franchise. Surely, the Red Sox' dedicated fans deserve a team worth rooting for down the stretch — even if it is playing for nothing more than self-respect and genuine competitiveness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Roger Clemens' 20-Strikeout Game: April 29th,1986

Roger Clemens shows off the ball he used in his 20-strikeout game.

On the night of Tuesday, April 29, 1986, 23-year-old righthander Roger Clemens took the mound at Fenway Park to little fanfare. It was just the 18th game of the season, and a mere 13,414 fans were sprinkled throughout the ballpark.

They had no idea that they were about to witness history. Nor did anyone else.

In fact, there was just one photographer stationed in the photographers' well on the first base side to record what was about to unfold.

There was good reason that no one was expecting anything special from Clemens that night; he was making just his fourth start since having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder only eight months earlier.

The right-hander's torn labrum had healed quite well, but no one knew it at the time.

Midway through the 1985 season, Clemens's career was in danger of being derailed. His shoulder was hurting so much that he could barely lift his pitching arm, which limited him to pitching in just 15 games that season.

In August, Dr. James Andrews was enlisted to remove cartilage near Clemens' rotator cuff via arthroscopic surgery, which was a relatively new procedure at the time.

No one knew what would become of Clemens when the 1986 season rolled around.

But on this night, it was immediately clear that Clemens' shoulder was healthy and fully healed.

The hurler struck out the first three Mariners he faced, all swinging, and then fanned two of the three in the second inning.

Bob Costas recounts that magical evening here.

When it was all said and done, Clemens threw a complete game, allowing just one run on three hits.

But the main thing all 13, 414 fans in attendance would remember was that Clemens blew away the Mariners' hitters all night long.

The right hander made history that night, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.

Watch Clemens recount his history-making performance here.

But the fans weren't the only ones who were impressed that evening. Even the officials were amazed.

"Home plate umpire (Vic) Voltaggio told a batboy after the seventh inning, 'This is the best pitching performance I've ever seen,'" wrote Columnist Leigh Montville in Sports Illustrated.

Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers to strike out 20 batters in nine innings. But Clemens was the first, and he also accomplished the feat twice.

More than 10 years after his 20-strikeout mastery of Seattle, Clemens matched his legendary accomplishment on September 18, 1996 against Detroit, at Tiger Stadium.

This second 20-strikeout performance occurred in Clemens third-to-last game as a member of the Red Sox.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red Sox May Seek Starting Pitching Despite Dwindling Playoff Hopes

The Red Sox could be without at least three members of their 2014 starting rotation next season.

Both Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will become free agents when this season concludes, and John Lackey may choose to sit out the 2015 season rather than play for the Red Sox at the league minimum.

The Red Sox had language inserted into Lackey's contract stipulating that in the event he missed extensive time due to an elbow problem, the team would get control of him for an extra year at the league minimum (roughly $500K).

At age 30, Lester will earn $13 million this year, the most he has made in any season. The Red Sox need to ask if he will get better and be more valuable in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Is he worth $20-$25 million per season over at least five years?

The Sox reportedly made Lester a four-year, $70 million offer earlier this season, which he promptly rejected.

Yes, the Red Sox can afford Lester. But is such an expensive, long-term investment in a pitcher in his 30s prudent?

Peavy will make $14.5 million this season, meaning he will be overpaid. Next year's major league qualifying offer will be in the range of $15 million for a one-year deal. The Red Sox have to determine if they think that Peavy is worth that much, or if any team will offer him a high-dollar, long term deal.

In my estimation, he is not worth that cost, and he belongs in the National League.

On the open market this winter, Lackey would likely get at least two years (maybe three) at $15 million per year. If he decides that pitching for the minimum is not worth the injury risk, and would potentially jeopardize a long term deal beginning in 2016, Lackey might just choose to sit out the 2015 season.

It would be a reasonable decision. Why take the risk?

With all of that in mind, the Red Sox are thinking beyond this season in their quest for controllable starting pitching. That's why the Sox could still be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they are out of playoff contention.

According to multiple reports, the Sox have been scouting Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 2-6 this season with a 2.77 ERA. The 29-year-old has struck out 82 batters over 91 innings of work.

It's been reported that the Cubs previously offered Samardzija a five-year contract in the $60-million to $65-million range, which he rejected. However, it may not be all about the money.

The pitcher is also said to be concerned about the Cubs' timeline to become competitive again. Chicago has endured four straight losing seasons, and is well on its way to a fifth.

Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He will be highly coveted at the deadline and will likely have big price tag. The Sox will probably need to part with at least three top prospects to land him.

But, Samardzija will be 31 after the 2015 season, when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Why would the Red Sox be inclined to give him a big payday at age 31 if they won't give one to Lester at age 30?

Additionally, there has long been speculation that the Sox have interest in Phillies' starters Cliff Lee (age 35) and Cole Hamels (age 30).

Lee has a large contract and isn't healthy at the moment. He is owed $25 million in 2015, and there is a $27.5 million club option for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. That's $27.5 in guaranteed money, and it could be as much as $52.5 million over two years.

If Lee is traded this season, it would most likely be a post-waiver deal since he’s unlikely to be healthy enough for a trade before the July deadline.

Hammels is owed $22.5 million each season through 2018, totaling $90 million. There is also a $20 million club option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout. This means that any team acquiring Hamels will be on the hook for at least $96 million over four more seasons, and up to $110 million for the next five.

The Red Sox will have some difficult, yet interesting, choices to make in the coming months. But, one way or another, they need to address their starting rotation for the long term. And they may begin doing that as soon as next month, despite their dwindling playoff hopes.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Red Sox Need More Than Stephen Drew to Fix Their Problems

Due to injuries and poor performance, the Red Sox roster and lineup have been in disarray this season.

Once Will Middlebrooks went on the disabled list due to a fractured right index finger, the left side of the Red Sox infield went into a state of flux.

Initially, the Sox turned to light-hitting utility man Jonathan Herrera to man third base, but that proved to be inadequate. Herrera has posted a slash line of .250/.328/.268/.596 this season.

Then the Sox signed free agent third baseman Ryan Roberts as a stopgap. But Roberts played in just eight games and, over 19 at-bats, posted a slash line of .105/.227/.105/.333. That wasn't sufficient for the Sox, who quickly designated the veteran after just 11 days.

The Red Sox eventually re-signed Stephen Drew, ostensibly, because their offense was weak and lackluster. But Drew is hardly the solution to that problem.

Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:

2011: .252/.317/.396
2012: .250/.326/.382
2013: .253/.333/.443

Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. Drew has been consistently underwhelming for three straight seasons.

Will Middlebrooks, who will soon be activated from the DL, has more offensive upside than Drew.

Middlebrooks hit 32 homers over his first 615 major league at-bats, or roughly a full season's worth. That kind of power is hard to find in today's game.

In fact, right-handed power has become a lost commodity in the majors. Just 27 right-handed hitters drafted in 2000 or later have had as many as 30 homers in a single major league season.

The last right-handed hitter drafted and developed by the Red Sox who hit 30 homers in a season was Nomar Garciaparra, who launched 30 homers in 1997 and 35 in 1998.

So, the Sox haven't given up on Middlebrooks. They've seen enough to know that some genuine potential exists, assuming that Middlebrooks can simply stay healthy. To this point, that's been a struggle.

Yet, Stephen Drew was brought in to fill a void that he has no ability to fill.

The Red Sox real problems lie in the outfield, which has been dreadful this season. The team has gotten almost no production from its current group.

Here is the OPS for each member of the Sox' outfield, in descending order:

Gomes: .722
Victorino: .627
Sizemore: .624
Carp: .603
Bradley: .580
Nava: .513

None of the above numbers is worthy of a starting role in the Sox outfield. In fact, most aren't even worthy of being in the majors.

Cumulatively, the Sox outfield has a .612 OPS, the worst, by far, in the majors. But it goes beyond that.

This group of Red Sox outfielders is historically bad.

The Sox outfield's OPS is the second worst of any group since 1974, only marginally better than the 2011 Seattle Mariners (.608).

And the Sox outfield's batting average is the absolute worst; heading into Monday night it is a combined .214.

Jonny Gomes is currently the Red Sox most offensively productive outfielder, and that's not saying much.

Through 137 at-bats this season, Gomes has posted a .234/.335/.387/.722 slash line, to go along with 5 homers and 24 RBI. Hey, at least he has those "intangibles."

Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .203/.286/.294/.580. In other words, his slugging percentage is what his batting average should be.

Grady Sizemore is batting .222 /.291/.333/.624. This is the same guy that used to be a super star. His health is just fine. But two missed seasons have turned him into terrible baseball player.

So far, the Red Sox solution to all this futility was to sign the weak-hitting Drew. Everyone should have expected that Drew would be rusty after not playing competitive baseball since last October, and he has certainly lived up to that expectation.

Through 14 at-bats, admittedly a very small sample size, Drew has one hit, two walks and five strikeouts. As of today, he has posted a slash line of .071/.188/.071/.259.

This is what the Red Sox are getting for a $10 million, pro-rated contract this season.

When the Sox re-signed Drew, it was clear that their problem was the lack of offensive production from their outfield, not from their shortstop.

Yes, third base has been a black hole, but the Sox still believe in Middlebrooks and they knew he would soon return from the DL.

Wouldn't you rather see Brock Holt at third every day, with Bogaerts still manning shortstop? Yeah, they probably would too.

The Sox still need to address their shortcomings in the outfield, but they now have 10 million fewer dollars to fill that pressing need. That's not a paltry sum, given that the Sox' opening day payroll was nearly $163 million, the fourth highest in baseball, according to the Associated Press.

However, the luxury tax threshold for this season is $189 million, leaving the Red Sox some room to maneuver, if they think this current team is worth investing in. Ultimately, the Sox have roughly $16 million to play with this summer, if they so choose.

Whether it's one of their own minor league prospects (Mookie Betts?), or a trade for a proven major league outfielder, somewhere down the line — likely sooner than later — a change is gonna come.

At the least, the fans and the ever-important NESN ratings demand it.

This team is tough to watch, and Stephen Drew won't fix that.