Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Red Sox 2017 Season Postmortem

The Red Sox have a young, talented, homegrown roster, the likes of which most teams surely envy. Yet, the club wasn't good enough to get out of the first round of the playoffs in either 2016 or 2017, despite winning back-to-back AL East crowns for the first time in club history.

The Red Sox managed to win 93 games this season, in spite of a series of rather obvious flaws.

Boston finished last in the AL in homers, the first time they’ve done so since 1930. Almost every player in the Boston lineup took a giant step back from last season: Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Sandy Leon all experienced considerable declines in 2017.

There will be changes made to the roster this offseason, as there should be. Chris Young and Brock Holt (the team's lone All Star in 2015) likely won’t be back, but those would merely amount to cosmetic changes.

Boston needs a significant addition, particularly a power hitter with positional versatility. This lineup desperately needs a big bopper, and Hanley Ramirez is not that guy.

The 33-year-old’s bating average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have all declined in three of the last four seasons. In other words, his solid 2016 campaign was an outlier.

Ramirez appeared in just 18 games at first base this year. That lack of versatility hurts the team, as does his weak offensive production: Ramirez slashed .242/.320/.429/.750, with 23 homers and 62 RBI, this season. An inability to adequately play a defensive position, along with poor offensive output, does not warrant $22 million annually.

Ramirez is under contract through the 2018 season, as part of his his four-year, $88 million deal. The contract, however, has a vesting option. Ramirez will be paid $22 million in 2019 if he can combine for 1,050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018.

Ramirez posted 553 PAs this season, pushing past the halfway mark to vesting his 2019 option. That means Ramirez needs fewer than 500 PA’s next season to guarantee his return in 2019, which is a nightmare scenario for Boston, given that he is very clearly in decline, shoulder problems notwithstanding.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox limit Ramirez’s play next year, especially if he struggles, to keep him off the roster and prevent him from collecting a huge pay day in 2019.

Recurring left knee problems forced Pedroia onto the disabled list twice this season. As a result, the second baseman played in just 105 games. Pedroia had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee over the winter only to be re-injured when he was spiked by Baltimore’s Manny Machado in April.

The 34-year-old, who just completed his 12th season, has four years remaining on his eight-year, $110 million contract extension. However, there are good reasons to be concerned about whether Pedroia will be able to fulfill that contract, as his career may be in jeopardy. He is expected to undergo another, more complex, surgery this offseason.

Dave Dombrowski publicly admitted the significance of Pedroia’s injury this season, saying, "The problem for Dustin is, and will be, he has a bad knee. He has a bad knee that he’s going to have to watch, and we're going to have to watch, for the rest of his career."

That sounds ominous and indicates that this is going to be a long term problem. It’s reasonable to wonder how much it will affect Pedroia’s career and if it might even shorten it. The Sox will need to have a contingency plan for second base going forward.

Boston has a talented young nucleus, which includes Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez. But after the back-to-back eliminations in the ALDS, will Dombrowski see any of them as expendable or as bait to improve a team that clearly needs improvement?

Then there’s the rotation, which clearly needs help.

Chris Sale is the only sure thing and, quite fortunately, is under team control for the next two seasons. Defending Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello lost 17 games and posted a 4.65 ERA. The rotation was without David Price for more than half the season and Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7), Doug Fister (5-7), Steven Wright (1-3), Kyle Kendrick (0-2) and Hector Velazquez (0-1) all posted losing records.

Recurring left elbow problems put Price on the disabled list twice this season and held him to just 11 starts. It should surprise no one if Price’s troubled elbow ultimately requires Tommy John surgery. The lefty was limited to 74.2 innings this season, but he has thrown 1,746 frames over the course of his nine-year career. That’s a lot of mileage for a pitcher who is just 31, and the tread is wearing thin.

It’s time to stop waiting for Rodriguez to develop into a frontline starter. He'll be part of the rotation, but he is inconsistent and his health cannot be relied upon. Over three seasons, the lefty has never made more than 24 starts and has averaged just 22.

Yes, Porcello can surely bounce back from his disastrous 2017 campaign, but he is a pitcher with a lifetime 4.25 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Obviously, those are very mediocre career numbers. His 2016 season was an extreme outlier in a career that has been marked by the ordinary.

Drew Pomeranz is under team control for one more season. His left elbow required a stem cell procedure last winter and it seemed to work. However, he threw a career-high 173.2 innings in 2017 and it clearly wore him down.

Beyond Sale, Porcello and Pomeranz, there are only questions in the Boston rotation. Steven Wright could return, following cartilage restoration surgery on his left knee, but his health remains in question. Neither Brian Johnson, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens or any other minor league pitcher will crack the rotation next season. None of them is a difference maker. The Sox may need some help from outside the organization.

John Farrel’s greatest achievement as manager was fashioning one of the game’s best bullpens out of players like Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Blaine Boyer, Fernando Abad and Robby Scott. Somehow, the Red Sox bullpen managed to post the second lowest ERA (3.15) in the majors.

Firing Farrell won’t fix what ails the Red Sox. He didn’t hit or pitch or field. This roster was mostly lackluster this season, yet they still won the AL East. Call it overachieving. Joe Madden wouldn’t have made this group any better.

The greatest enigma is this: what exactly would make this team a World Series contender in 2018? The Red Sox are a young and highly talented team, yet they looked entirely overmatched by Houston in the ALDS.

A healthy and fully effective David Price would have certainly made the rotation more formidable this year. So would the "2016 edition" of Rick Porcello, but we may never see that version of the righty again. Again, his 2016 performance was an extreme aberration in his nine-year career.

It’s clear that the Red Sox need a reliable power hitter to replace David Ortiz, which they never had this season. Is one big bat really all that Boston needs?

Would 29-year-old free agent Mike Moustakas be enough of a difference maker? Devers looked shaky at third, displaying erratic/errant fielding and throwing. Might the Sox shift the 20-year-old to first base to make room for Moustakas? Does Boston simply need a DH, such as free agents JD Martinez, Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana? Would any of them be enough to get the Sox over the hump?

Dave Dombrowski and his staff will contemplate these questions over the coming weeks; free agency begins the morning after the World Series ends.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Red Sox Limping Into What Will Likely Be a Brief Postseason

The Red Sox (92-67) are playing the Astros (99-60) in the final series of the regular season. The matchup is a likely preview of the American League Division Series, which will begin next Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Boston was crushed by Houston last night, 12-2, a drubbing that should concern both the Red Sox and their fans. The loss came on the heels of Boston dropping two of three games to last-place Toronto, a team that has lost more games than it has won this season.

Though the Red Sox suffered a beat down at the hands of their likely playoff opponent, their magic number still fell to 1 due to the Yankees loss to Tampa. This is what it’s come down to for Boston. They can’t count on winning their way into the postseason, but may need to rely on their arch rival losing in order to gain entry.

Despite winning 92 games so far this season, the Red Sox do not inspire confidence. Do you believe they are better than the Indians (100-59) or the Astros? I don't and the records reveal why.

Houston has scored 11 or more runs in four consecutive games, leading to a franchise-record 49 runs in that four-game span. It wasn’t all offense either; the pitching and defense are doing their parts too. The Astros won each of those four contests by at least 9 runs, making them the first team to do so since the Detroit Wolverines in 1887. Remember them?

Houston has also won 12 of its last 14 games. Clearly, they are peaking at the right time. The Astros can reach 100 wins for only the second time in team history with a victory in any of the final three games against Boston.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are limping into the playoffs behind some really weak starting pitching as of late. The latest poor performance came from Eduardo Rodriguez, who was tagged for five runs on six hits and two walks over just 1 2/3 innings last night.

Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) and Drew Pomeranz (16-6, 3.38 ERA) are undoubtedly Boston’s two top starters. Yet, each has been shaky as of late. Perhaps they are both feeling the burden of a six-month season.

Sale’s late-season inconsistency is really worrisome and couldn’t come at a worse time, since the playoffs begin next week. In his last eight starts dating back to Aug. 19, he is 3-4 with a 4.30 ERA.

How unpredictable has he been? In the three wins, he didn't give up any runs.

At this point, when Sale takes the mound, the Red Sox aren't sure which version they'll get. That's a nightmare for Boston since he is, by far, the team's very best starter.

Pomeranz has thrown 167 2/3 innings so far, putting him just three away from his career-high set a year ago. He appears worn down, as evidenced by the fact that his velocity has declined. Over his last four outings, the lefty’s fastball has fallen to 89-91 mph, after averaging 92.74 mph in August.

Boston’s projected Game 2 starter in the ALDS was pulled Monday night after just two innings in which he allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk. He struck out none. The Red Sox went on to lose the game, 6-4, to the Blue Jays.

Pomeranz is scheduled to take his final regular season start on Saturday against the Astros, who will be watching him very closely. If the Red Sox can win the AL East tonight via a win or a Yankees loss, they might choose to rest Pomeranz and not give him more exposure to Houston’s powerful lineup.

Boston will need at least one additional starter for the playoffs. Who that will be remains unclear. If the decision is a matter of merit, as it customarily is, no one has stepped up and earned the privilege.

Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, finished the 2017 regular season with an 11-17 record (the most losses of his career) and a 4.65 ERA. Porcello gave up his 37th and 38th homers this season on Wednesday, tying the club record set by Tim Wakefield in 1996.

In a normal world, Porcello would never make a playoff roster. In the Red Sox world, he may be viewed as a better alternative than Doug Fister (5-6, 4.69) or Eduardo Rodriguez (6-7, 4.22).

David Price, the Red Sox $217 million starter, has missed half the season due to a left elbow injury. Two stints on the disabled list have limited him to just 11 starts this year. It won’t surprise me in the least if Price ultimately requires Tommy John surgery during the offseason, which would cost him the 2018 season.

In the meantime, the lefty may to contribute to the Red Sox as a reliever. He could serve the team in high-leverage situations out of the pen, as long as his elbow holds up. In the past week, he has twice struck out the side in a relief role, which seems to serve him well at present.

Then there’s the Red Sox offense.

Among the 15 American League teams, Boston is ninth in batting (.258) and 14th in slugging (.408).

Most remarkably, the Red Sox will finish last in the American League in home runs for the first time since 1930. Boston has hit 167 homers in 159 games this season; there are nine AL clubs with over 200.

Though Boston has four players with at least 20 home runs this season (Betts, Ramirez, Moreland and Benintendi), not one of them has as many as 25. This is in the same year that Major League Baseball has set a single-season home-run record. In other words, this shouldn’t be happening now.

The Red Sox are poised to win the AL East for the second straight season. It would mark the first time in club history that Boston has won back-to-back division titles.

It’s amazing that this 117-year-old franchise has never won back-to-back AL East titles, and normally it would be viewed as such a great feat and an honorable distinction.

This season, however, it seems meaningless.

Of course, there is hope. This is a very determined and resilient Red Sox team. They have won 11 games in which they were trailing after seven innings, the most in the majors. Boston is also 15-3 in extra innings this season, tying the 1943 Red Sox for most extra-inning wins, and they lead the Majors with an .833 winning percentage in extras.

I actually like this Red Sox team a lot. There is plenty to like. They are young and, with the exception of Mitch Moreland, the lineup is almost entirely homegrown. When Sam Travis starts at first and Hanley Ramirez is the DH, the Red Sox field a team in which every player was drafted by the organization.

This unit will largely remain intact and be very competitive for years to come. Yet, they have clear offensive flaws (namely a lack of power) and most of the starters have woefully underperformed.

In a week or so, I think we’ll all be left saying, “Wait until next year.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

Remembering Tony Conigliaro and What Might Have Been

This year marks a sad anniversary in Red Sox history. Fifty years ago, rising star Tony Conigliaro was brutally struck in the face by a fastball, a tragic event that changed the trajectory of his highly promising career.

For those too young to know, “Tony C,” as he was known, started his career as brilliantly as any player in club history.

Born in Revere, Massachusetts, Conigliaro graduated from St. Mary’s High School in nearby Lynn in 1962. The Red Sox immediately signed the 17-year-old right out of high school and he made his major league debut just two years later.

In his first game at Fenway, on April 17, 1964, the 19-year-old, local product hit a towering blast that cleared the Green Monster. It was a sign of things to come. Tony C enjoyed a sparkling rookie season, batting .290 with 24 home runs and 52 RBI in only 111 games. To this day, he holds the Major League record for most home runs hit as a teenager.

Unfortunately, Tony C’s season was cut short due to a broken arm. The injury may have cost him Rookie of the Year honors, which instead went to Minnesota's Tony Oliva.

The next year he hit 32 round-trippers, becoming, at the age of 20, the youngest home run champ in American League history. That year, he also slugged .512 and drove in 82 runs in just 138 games.

Tony C was already becoming a folk hero by the time the 1966 season rolled around. As a 21-year-old, the right fielder hit 28 homers with 93 RBI. He was a bona fide superstar in Boston.

As his teammate Rico Petrocelli said of him, "Conigliaro had it all: tremendous talent, matinee idol looks, charisma and personality.

That combination of assets earned Tony C a recording contract and he actually cut a few records. He was a guest on TV shows, such as the Merv Griffin Show. Conigliaro’s fame extended well beyond the baseball diamond.

Ih his book, “Tales from the Impossible Dream Red Sox," Petrocelli said this about his friend:

An eligible bachelor, Tony C. was easily the most popular player on the Red Sox, especially with the ladies. He certainly took pleasure in their company. But while he dated actresses and Playboy bunnies, he wasn’t a playboy… Tony didn’t like to go to fancy nightclubs. In fact, he preferred to stay out of the public eye as much as possible.

In 1967, the 22-year-old continued his torrid pace and made his first All Star team. Through August 18, Conigliaro was hitting .287, with 20 home runs, 67 RBI and a .517 slugging percentage.

Then, tragedy struck when he was hit in the face by a fastball from Angels’ pitcher Jack Hamilton. It changed the course of Tony C’s skyrocketing career and may have ultimately cost the Red Sox the World Series that year (Bob Gibson notwithstanding).

Despite his season being cut short once again, Conigliaro became, and remains, the youngest player in American League history to hit 100 home runs, reaching the century mark at 22 years and 197 days. Mel Ott, was the youngest player to hit 100 home runs and his was the first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs.

A promising, possibly historic career was forever changed by Hamilton’s misfired pitch, which hit Conigliaro squarely on the left side of his face.The pitch broke his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and severely damaged his left retina, resulting in 20/300 vision.

Petrocelli swore that the noise the ball made when it impacted Conigliaro's face could have been heard clearly all over Fenway Park, which was near capacity that Friday night. He said it sounded as if the ball had struck Conigliaro’s helmet, but it was the sound of his face being shattered.

Conigliaro lost consciousness and lied listless in the batter’s box. His teammates gathered around him in horror. His skull swelled up like a ballon. Blood poured from his nose. Petrocelli said he thought his friend would surely lose his left eye. Three teammates lifted Tony C’s limp body onto a stretcher and carried him off the field.

Conigliaro later said he thought he was going to die.

Dr. Joseph Dorsey, who examined the slugger at Sancta Maria Hospital in Cambridge, said that if the ball had struck Conigliaro an inch higher and to the right, he might have indeed been killed.
At the time, hitters wore batting helmets without the earflap that is customary today. Had he been wearing a modern helmet, things might have turned out quite differently.

Hamilton, the Angels' pitcher, tried to visit Conigliaro in the hospital the next morning, but was denied admittance to his room. Few visitors were allowed and the press was barred from interviewing him, but a photographer was permitted to snap the iconic photograph above.

The young slugger’s sight was permanently altered and he missed the entire 1968 season.

Though he returned in 1969, batting .255, with 20 home runs and 82 RBI, his left retina had been irrevocably damaged. Still, he won Comeback Player of the Year honors and got to roam the outfield alongside his brother, Billy, who played with the Red Sox from 1969-1971.

The 1970 season proved to be an extraordinary comeback for Tony C, as he hit .266, with a career-high 36 homers and 116 runs batted in.

The performance earned him the Hutch Award, which is given annually to an active Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson, a former big league pitcher and manager who was stricken with fatal lung cancer at the age of 45.

Perhaps the Red Sox organization knew that Tony C’s best days were behind him. Perhaps it was his uneasy relationship with manager Dick Williams. Whatever it was, Boston traded Conigliaro to the Angels after the 1970 season.

His eyesight worsened and the effects were obvious. Petrocelli said that his former teammate could barely see out of his left eye. Conigliaro played in only 74 games in 1971, hitting .222, with just four homers and 15 RBI, before going on the disabled list in July. He retired at the end of the season at the age of 26.

After four years away from the game, Tony C attempted a comeback with the Red Sox during the 1975 season. Though he was still just 30-years-old, Conigliaro was s shell of his former self. Over 21 unmemorable games, he batted .123 with 2 home runs, before retiring for good.

Conigliaro never fully recovered from the horrific beaning he suffered in August, 1967. It derailed his brief but brilliant career. If you exclude the aborted comeback in '75, Tony C played just seven seasons in the majors, two of which were under 100 games. We’re all left to imagine what might have been.

Conigliaro hit 162 homers during his relatively brief career with Boston. Baseball historians, and Red Sox fans old enough to remember him, are left to wonder what he could have accomplished over the course of a 15 or 16-year career. Many believe he surely would have been a member of the 500 home-run club. After all, he had already eclipsed 100 homers by the age of 22.

Food for thought: Mel Ott, the only player to reach 100 homers at a younger age, is a member of the 500-hume run club.

Consider that Conigliaro hit 104 homers in his first four seasons, from the ages of 19-22. In that span, he averaged 26 homers. Meanwhile, he never played in more than 150 games over those four seasons and averaged just 124 games.

Had he averaged 26 homers over the next 12 seasons, he would have ended his career, at age 34, with 416 homers. But many observers think Tony C easily had 30-home run power, and he surely hadn’t yet entered his prime at the time he was beaned. It’s not hard to imagine Conigliaro playing into his late 30s. Had he averaged 30 homers a year for the next 14 seasons, and retired at age 36, Tony C would have amassed a total of 524 career homers.

Health is the key to longevity and that will always remain the greatest question in terms of what Tony C might have been. Five times he had bones broken by pitches, including the one that broke his shoulder blade in spring training in 1967, just five months before his career was tragically altered.

Tony C looked like a surefire Hall of Famer in-the-making, but it wasn’t meant to be. Though he was a star, he was also star-crossed. It could be said that Tony C was a shooting star. As Petrocelli said of his friend, the only thing he didn’t have was luck.

After his baseball career ended, Conigliaro worked as a sportscaster, first at WJAR in Providence, RI, and later at KGO-TV in San Francisco. He then worked as a sports agent for Dennis Gilbert in Los Angeles. Gilbert said that Conigliaro had been prescribed blood-pressure medication, but that he didn’t like to take it.

After visiting his family in Boston during the Christmas holidays, the 37-year-old Conigliaro was on his way back to Los Angeles when he suffered a heart attack on Jan. 9, 1982. He was riding with his brother, Billy, on the way to Logan Airport. Billy sped to Massachusetts General, the nearest hospital, but Tony was in a coma by the time they reached the emergency room.

Doctors said Conigliaro’s brain was deprived of oxygen for 14 minutes. He remained in a coma for weeks and required constant care for the next eight years.

Tony C passed away from kidney failure on February 24, 1990, at the age of 45.

However, his legacy lives on. Since 1990, MLB annually hands out the Tony Conigliaro Award, given to a deserving player for overcoming adversity.

Former Red Sox lefty Jon Lester earned the award in 2007, after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and successfully resuming his career.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger, brighter, more charismatic young star on the Red Sox roster since Tony C. Fred Lynn and Nomar Garciaparra may be the only Red Sox stars to burst onto the scene with such talent, charisma and popularity.

Tony C’s star shined oh so brightly, but all too briefly.

Friday, August 18, 2017

50 Years Later, Remembering the I967 Red Sox Impossible Dream Team

With the Red Sox having won three World Series since 2004, this is widely viewed as the ‘Golden Era’ of Boston baseball. For anyone under the age of 50, there are no memories of the team’s decades-long struggles that followed its early successes.

At the turn of the last century, the Red Sox were a juggernaut, winning five World Series Championships in a 16-year span from 1903-1918.

Then, quite famously. team owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season for $100,000 — the largest sum ever paid for a baseball player.

The Red Sox subsequently became a bad team for many years thereafter; the club never won more than 75 games (1921) in the 1920s, as the Yankees rose to dominance.

Boston peaked at 89 wins in the 1930s and won as few as 43 that decade. The team did not win another pennant until 1946, yet that year Boston lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games.

Boston averaged 81 wins in the 1950s, a time when interest in the club waned considerably across New England. The team drew just 1.15 million fans to Fenway Park in 1957, the highest total of the decade.

Ted Williams was the star of the Red Sox in the 1940s and 1950s, when the club suffered through mediocrity and obscurity. Williams, widely viewed as the “greatest hitter who ever lived,” played in just one World Series during his glorious 22-year career.

Williams retired after the 1960 season and was supplanted in left field by a rookie named Carl Yastrzemski, who became the club’s next great star.

But Yaz’s early career with Boston was also marked by frustration and disappointment. From 1960-1966, the Red Sox finished, on average, 29 games out of first place. In 1966, Boston ended the season with a 72-90 record, second worst in the AL, behind only the Yankees.

The team was so bad in the early and mid-‘60s that they routinely played before home crowds of just a few thousand, sometimes only in the hundreds. Imagine that. Dick Williams, the manager of the '67 club, was Boston’s eighth skipper in as many years. Yeah, they were that bad.

That all changed in 1967, when the Red Sox went from perennial cellar dweller to first place, winning the American League Pennant and returning to the World Series for the first time in 21 years. That’s when the real passion for the Red Sox was born across New England. Fans came to adore the Yastrzemski-led “Impossible Dream” team, which won 92 games that season — the most by the club in 17 years.

Yaz won the Triple Crown that year, leading the league in batting average (.326), home runs (44) and runs batted in (121). His performance, quite deservedly, earned him the AL MVP Award.

No player in baseball would win the venerable Triple Crown for another 45 years, until Miguel Cabrera achieved the feat in 2012.

Yaz went 7-for-8 in the final two games of the regular season, helping Boston edge Detroit and Minnesota by just one game.

The Red Sox came out of nowhere in ’67. No one saw them coming. Their achievement made Boston a true baseball town again for the first time in decades. They were vast underdogs and great overachievers, whose stunning season changed the trajectory of baseball in New England for the next five decades, and counting.

Despite all he did, Yaz, of course, didn’t win the pennant all by himself.

Through August 18, 22-year-old outfielder Tony Conigliaro hit .287, with 20 home runs, 67 RBI and a .517 slugging percentage. Then he was hit in the face by a pitch from Angels’ pitcher Jack Hamilton. It changed the course of Tony C’s skyrocketing career and may have cost the Red Sox the World Series (Bob Gibson notwithstanding).

First baseman George Scott batted .303, with 19 homers and 82 RBI.

Shortstop Rico Petrocelli hit 17 homers, 24 doubles and drove in 66 runs.

Outfielder Reggie Smith hit 15 home runs, 24 doubles and had 57 RBI.

Second baseman Mike Andrews scored 79 runs, second best on the team, behind only Yastrzemski.

Then there was Boston's pitching.

Jim Longborg led the team with 39 starts, 273.1 innings, 246 Ks and 22 wins (against nine losses), while posting a 3.16 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

Righty Gary Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.

Righty Lee Strange posted a 2.77 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, despite his 8-10 record.

The Sox bullpen was outstanding in 1967. Four relievers had ERAs of 2.60 or better, led by lefty Sparky Lyle, who posted a 2.28 ERA and a team-leading 1.08 WHIP.

Righty John Wyatt led the club with 20 saves, but also had 10 wins, a 2.60 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.

After so many years of failure and futility, no one had great expectations for the ’67 Red Sox. In the preseason, even manager Dick Williams would only predict that they’d win more than they’d lose.

The 1967 Red Sox did a whole lot more than that. They sparked a passion for baseball in New England for generations to come. They created an expectation for winning and that ownership should field a highly competitive team each season.

Though they again lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games, the Sox still ended up as winners in the long run.

The ’67 club gave birth to one of the most popular franchises in American sports over the past half-century. Most of all, they gave Red Sox fans hope.

That is worth remembering and celebrating.

Friday, July 28, 2017

For Red Sox, Adrián Beltré is the One That Got Away

Adrián Beltré is only four hits shy of 3,000 for his career and when he reaches that vaunted milestone, he will become just the 31st player in major league history to do so.

It will be just the latest achievement in a career that will likely lead to Cooperstown.

Beltré is the fourth third baseman to reach 400 home runs and 1,500 runs batted in. He is a four-time selection for the Silver Slugger Award and a five-time Gold Glove Award winner.

And he was, for one fleeting season, a member of the Boston Red Sox.

On January 7, 2010, Beltré signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston (the deal included a $1 million buy out for 2011 if no long term agreement could be reached). The Sox got so much for their investment.

That season, Beltré led the Red Sox with a .321 in batting average, which was fourth-best in the American League, and tied David Ortiz for the team lead in RBI (102). He finished the year with 189 hits, 28 home runs and 84 runs scored. Beltré’s 49 doubles led the Majors and were a career high. He also finished fifth in the AL in total bases (326) and slugging percentage (.553).

By all accounts, the 31-year-old Beltré enjoyed his lone season in Boston and would have gladly returned to the OldeTowne Team if only the Sox had made a reasonable offer. Had Boston come to the table with a four-year deal in the range of $50-$60 million, they likely would have had a future Hall of Famer on their roster, perhaps to this day.

But the Red Sox had other plans.

That offseason, Boston traded a package of prospects (including Anthony Rizzo) to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and handed him a 7-year $154 million extension. They then moved Kevin Youkilis, who had previously won a Gold Glove at first base in 2007, back over to third base, where his career began.

How did that all work out?

In 2011, Gonzalez had an outstanding first year in Boston, slashing .338/.410/.548, with a league-leading 213 hits, 45 homers, 27 doubles and 117 RBI. However, he faded down the stretch and September was one of his weakest months in nearly every statistical category.

The Red Sox suffered an epic collapse that month, going 7-20, which was their most September losses since the 1952 club also dropped 20 games. The team pathetically lost 16 of their final 21 games, resulting in a September winning percentage of .259, the worst for any Red Sox team since August, 1964.

Through it all, Gonzalez showed a total lack of leadership, which contributed to the Red Sox’ demise. He displayed no passion, no drive, no desire, no fire and no ferocity. He was a star without a pulse.

Gonzalez took no responsibility for the Red Sox' collapse. Instead, he blamed the ‘big man in the sky'. When asked to describe the Red Sox epic choke, Gonzalez responded by saying, “I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't his plan for us to move forward."

In August of the next season, the Red Sox orchestrated a historic trade with the Dodgers, offloading the bloated contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, along with Gonzalez’s. Though he put up great numbers, Gonzalez didn’t act like a winner and he was the bait that allowed Boston to jettison Crawford and Beckett.

By second half of 2011, Youkilis’ career was flaming out and his sudden decline led Boston to trade him to the White Sox in June, 2012. Youk looked far from the player that had been an All Star the previous season. His body was breaking down and betraying him; he was out of baseball by early 2013.

Meanwhile, Rizzo has had three straight 30-plus home runs seasons. In 2016, he added his first Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and first World Series title with the Cubs.

In the seven years since Beltré’s departure, third base has remained an unsettled mess for the Red Sox.

Boston signed Pablo Sandoval to a highly-regrettable five-year, $95 million deal in 2014. The organization was driven to ink an obese third baseman, whose on-base, slugging and OPS had declined for three consecutive seasons, for one glaring reason: the Sox had fielded 14 different players at the hot corner for 10 games or more over the previous four seasons.

In other words, ever since they let Beltré walk away.

If there was one ray of light in this otherwise horrible decision, it was this: by letting Beltré walk, the Sox received two compensation draft picks in 2011, which turned out to be Blake Swihart (26th overall) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (40th overall).

For the last seven seasons, the Red Sox have lamented their decision not to re-sign Beltré and to instead allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for Crawford, Gonzalez and Sandoval. Over that period, Beltré has batted .307 and slugged .520 for Texas, while posting four 30-plus homer and three 100-plus RBI seasons.

This weekend, perhaps, the Red Sox organization will watch Beltré notch his 3,000th career hit, and a few years from now it will watch him become enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

What a shame and how regrettable? We are left to wonder what might have been. Beltré was a Red Sox and they let him slip away.

That decision set off a chain of events — a domino effect — that is still haunting the team to this very day.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Modern Pitching is Regressing, Not Advancing

Cy Young competed a whopping 41 of his 43 starts for the Red Sox in 1902

Baseball has changed through the decades, from a pitching-dominant sport to a hitting-dominant sport.

The exclusion of black players until 1947 kept many exceptional players out of the big leagues, and out of the record books.

League expansion has added more players and, some would say, watered down the talent pool. That, however, should have affected both hitters and pitchers equally.

After the 1968 season, known among baseball historians as “The Year of the Pitcher,” the pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1969 to curb to the dominance of pitchers.

Additionally, the American League’s adoption of the designated hitter in 1973 increased offense and diminished the pitcher’s advantage in that league.

Through it all, however, some things have endured and remained consistent — year after year, decade after decade.

The mound is still sixty feet, six inches from home plate, which remains a five-sided slab of whitened rubber, 17 inches square. The batter’s box remains the same size, at 4 x 6 feet, and the bases are all still 90 feet apart.

However, there has been one rather odd change in MLB in recent decades: the near absence of the complete game.

Will White completed a whopping 75 games for Cincinnati in 1879. The notion that a pitcher would make that many starts, alone, sounds bizarre today. However, throughout the late 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for a pitcher to record 50-plus, or even 60-plus, complete games per season.

During this era, the basic rules of the game had not been settled upon (examples: the number of balls for a walk was once as high as 8, foul balls did not count as strikes, so a batter could foul off pitches until he got one he liked, etc.) and the American and National Leagues had not been established as the two major leagues.

The period beginning in 1901 is generally considered the start of “modern baseball.”

As its name implies, the Dead Ball Era (1901-1920), was heavily tilted toward pitchers, who would routinely start 40 or 50 games and often win 25 or 30.

Some of the things that contributed to the pitchers’ dominance in this era included the use of the spit ball, which wasn’t banned until 1920. Pitchers were not only allowed to spit on the ball, but were also allowed to scratch up the ball, changing its aerodynamics to their advantage.

Additionally, in this era, a single ball was used as long as possible, allowing it to wear down and become softer and harder to hit for distance. After the 1920 season, new balls were used more often for better visibility, which helped batters. Furthermore, new parks were also constructed toward the end of the Dead Ball Era that had hitter-friendly dimensions.

However, starting in 1920, the game shifted to lessen the numerous advantages held by pitchers and to level the playing field, so to speak, for hitters.

Yet, from the 1920s to the 1970s, it was not uncommon for pitchers to record 30 complete games in a season. These pitchers aren’t ancient artifacts of history. They were modern pitchers, playing by the same standardized rules that remain in effect today.

For example, Catfish Hunter led the majors with 30 complete games for the Yankees in 1975. It didn’t even seem remarkable at the time. Rick Langford led baseball with 28 complete games for Oakland in 1980. But by the time Roger Clemens competed an MLB-best 18 games for the Red Sox in 1987, the downward trend in complete games was clearly visible.

Jack McDowell of the White Sox (1991) and Curt Schilling of the Phillies (1998) notched the highest complete-game totals in the 1990s, each finishing 15 games. Such a number seems extraordinary by today’s standards.

The highest complete-game total in the 2000s was nine, which was reached six times by five different pitchers.

James Shields finished 11 games for the Rays in 2011, by far the highest total this decade. Last year, Ivan Nova and Max Scherzer led the National League with two complete games apiece.

So, what happened? Pitchers aren't physically inferior today than they were in the 1970s, or even the 1920s. The human shoulder and elbow aren’t weaker or less durable.

Yes, pitchers throw harder today than ever before. Today’s game emphasizes the heater more than in the past, favoring hard throwers to four-pitch craftsman who paint the corners at will with great command. The current game is littered with starters who can throw in the mid to upper-90s, and even the triple digits.

On the other hand, as recently as the 1970s, teams used four-man rotations, with each starter pitching on just three days’ rest. It didn't ruin pitchers.

Today, a five-man rotation (and occasionally six) is the norm. That has resulted in pitchers making fewer starts and throwing fewer innings. In essence, pitchers now endure less physical stress and their bodies endure less wear. Yet, it isn’t helping.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is littered with pitchers who took the mound on three days of rest. It clearly didn’t make them pitch less effectively or shorten their careers.

Today’s pitchers operate on strict pitch-count limits (usually 100) and enjoy longer rest periods. Yet, no one can even complete as many as 10 starts. It’s reasonable to ask why can’t they complete the majority of their starts. What was once common is now viewed as impossible, or super human.

The last time a major league pitcher completed as many as 20 starts was in 1986, when Fernando Valenzuela finished 20 games for the Dodgers.

Despite five-man rotations, seven-man bullpens, four-days rest and pitch counts, pitchers are now more fragile than ever. Tommy John surgery is currently an epidemic. Even when starting pitchers aren’t undergoing elbow or shoulder surgery, they often miss starts to rest or end up on the DL.

Boston’s David Price led the majors with 35 starts in 2016 and Tampa’s Chris Archer led the majors with 34 starts in 2015. Those numbers were once considered pedestrian; now they are outliers.

The expectations of a starting pitcher have dropped dramatically in the modern game. We celebrate a pitcher who makes 30 starts and throws 200 innings. A “quality start” is considered six innings and three or fewer runs. However, three runs allowed over six innings results in a 4.50 ERA. That should not be viewed as quality.

Steve Carlton threw 304 innings for the Phillies in 1980. No one has even come close since then. Prior to that, it was the norm.

In fact, since 1990, the highest innings totals have been 271.1 by Roger Clemens in 1991 and 271.2 by Randy Johnson in 1999. Just two pitchers — Roy Halladay (250.2 in 2010) and Justin Verlander (251 in 2011) — have reached at least 250 innings since 2005.

Pitch counts and five-man rotations aren’t helping starters or the game. Baseball needs to reconsider the way things are being done. The conventional wisdom needs to be challenged because it does not appear to be wise after all.

Cy Young made a club-record 43 starts for the Red Sox in 1902, a year in which he threw a remarkable 384 2/3 innings, also a club record. Most stunning, perhaps, was that Young competed a whopping 41 of his 43 starts that season.

That sounds like the stuff of fantasy. In today’s game, he would be considered a freak of nature. But he was just a man, with the same shoulder and elbow construction as most other pitchers in the 21st Century.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I know this for sure: the way pitchers are being managed, and limited, today is not working.

Humans have shown a tendency to evolve over time; not to devolve.

It’s time to go back to the past. Pitchers might be better served.

Friday, June 23, 2017

David Ortiz Earned the Retirement of No. 34

The Boston Red Sox will retire David Ortiz’s No. 34 in a pregame ceremony tonight, making him just the 10th Red Sox player to receive the honor.

Big Papi joins Wade Boggs, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as Red Sox icons who have earned this distinction. However, Ortiz will become the first Red Sox player to have his number retired within a year of his final game.

Ortiz’s place in Red Sox history, and in major league history, is cemented.

A 10-time All Star over his 14 years in Boston, Ortiz was instrumental in the Red Sox' 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series titles, coming through with huge clutch hits that propelled the team to each of those championships. In fact, Ortiz was the MVP of the 2013 World Series.

Ortiz famously holds the Red Sox single-season record for home runs with 54, which he set during the 2006 season.

He is also in the top five in most offensive categories on the Red Sox' all-time list. For example, only Williams hit more homers (521) for the Red Sox than the 483 belted by Ortiz. And Ortiz ranks third in RBI, behind only Williams and Yastrzemski.

Ortiz had 10 100-RBI seasons with Boston, passing Williams for the most in franchise history. He joined Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron and Lou Gehrig as the only players with 10 or more seasons of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI for a single team.

Yes, Ortiz is more than just an all-time Red Sox great; he proved himself to be one of the game’s all time greats.

Consider this: throughout the game’s history, more than 15,000 men have taken the field as Major League Baseball players.

Ortiz finished his illustrious career ranked:

8th in extra-base hits (tied with Ken Griffey Jr.)
10th in doubles
17th in home runs
22nd in RBI
24th in slugging
30th in OPS
31st in total bases
40th in walks

Those achievements, against the background of 15,000 historical players, put his remarkable career in perspective.

Big Papi was great over a sustained period and was a premier player right until the very end. He concluded his career by having the greatest season for any 40-year-old in baseball history, and his most productive since 2012. Ortiz established single-season records for players over the age of 40 in home runs, RBI, doubles and extra-base hits. In fact, he recorded the most home runs and RBI by any player in his final season, and many of the game’s great players retired earlier than age 40.

No, Ortiz didn’t go out with a whimper, as so many aging athletes do. Instead, he went out with a bang. In 151 games, the Sox legend slashed .315/.401/.620 with 38 homers and 127 RBI, which was tied for first in the AL. Ortiz also led all players with a .620 slugging percentage, a 1.021 OPS and 48 doubles.

His 38 homers – which included 16 of the go-ahead variety – and 127 RBI were his best totals since 2006.

For those exploits, Ortiz earned another Silver Slugger award last season, an honor that goes to the top hitter at each position in his respective league. It was the seventh Silver Slugger for Ortiz, the most by any DH in history.

Ortiz also won the Hank Aaron Award for the American League, given to the best offensive performer in each league. It was the second time Ortiz won the award, previously collecting the prize in 2005.

However, Papi's greatness may never have been more evident than this year, when he hasn’t played a single game.

With Ortiz at the helm, the Red Sox led the Majors in runs scored last year. This season, Boston ranks 17th in runs and 27th in home runs.

The Red Sox biggest challenge this season has been attempting to replace Ortiz’s offensive impact. Pitchers feared and respected Ortiz. Last year, he walked 80 times, leading to his stellar .401 on-base percentage. Who in the current lineup do pitchers truly fear?

As the Red Sox have discovered, there is no replacing David Ortiz. From his personality and charm off the field, to his presence in the clubhouse and dugout, Ortiz has left some very big shoes to fill.

Tonight, the Red Sox and their fans will say a hearty "Thank You" to Big Papi for the three championships and all the great memories through the years.

It's a chance for all of us to say, "We salute you, David!"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Drew Pomeranz is a Bust for the Red Sox

It's time to admit that Drew Pomeranz is a bust for the Red Sox.

The lefty has yet to get past six innings this season. Moreover, in his last three outings, Pomeranz hasn’t lasted more than four innings.

It’s part of an ongoing pattern. Since joining the Red Sox last July, he has gotten an out in the seventh inning just twice in 21 starts.

This season, Pomeranz is 3-3 with a 4.97 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP through eight starts. But the evidence of his failure to perform stretches back to last season, when Pomeranz went 3-5, with a 4.59 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP over 68.2 innings, for the Red Sox.

It will never be forgotten (and perhaps never forgiven) that the Red Sox surrendered their top pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza, for Pomeranz. It was a steep price and one that has already proven to be far too costly.

Perhaps the failure of Pomeranz, who was an All Star last season with San Diego, is attributable to a bad left elbow, which the Padres were fully aware of prior to the trade.

San Diego withheld medical information about Pomeranz’s elbow from the Red Sox before the trade, which eventually became public knowledge.

Consequently, on September 16, 2016, Padres general manager A. J. Preller was suspended for 30 days for keeping two sets of medical records for players - one internal and one for league use.

The Red Sox worst fears may be materializing. Pomeranz, who received a stem cell injection in his left elbow during the offseason, began this season on the 10-day disabled list due to a left triceps ailment. Then he was recently pulled from a game after complaining about left triceps soreness.

Whatever the reason, the Red Sox can’t trust Pomeranz when he takes the mound. He puts too much pressure on the bullpen because he can’t get past the sixth inning, or sometimes even the fourth.

With an ERA approaching 5.00, Pomeranz barely qualifies for fifth-starter status in Boston, a high-payroll team with very clear playoff expectations.

No one should be surprised if Pomeranz’s season is derailed by his elbow troubles, and surgery remains a possibility, if not a likely outcome.

The Red Sox were given the chance to rescind the trade last season, when Preller’s devious dealing was revealed. But the Red Sox, who were in the playoff hunt, declined the offer since the trade deadline had already passed, leaving them with no other options. Boston just crossed its fingers and hoped for the best.

At this point, Dave Dombrowski and company would certainly like a do-over.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mitch Moreland Could Join an Elite List of Red Sox This Season

With 15 doubles as of Friday, Mitch Moreland is on track for at least 50 doubles this season, something that has only been accomplished by seven players in Red Sox history.

Incredibly, the club record for doubles in a single season is also the Major League record. Red Sox outfielder Earl Webb hit an astounding 67 two-baggers in 1931. Webb posted freakish output that season, as his next highest total was a mere 30 doubles.

Here’s the list of Red Sox players who’ve hit 50 or more doubles in a season. It's quite short and reads like a who’s who list of Sox greats:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
David Ortiz - 52 (2007)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)
Dustin Pedroia - 54 (2008)

Fourteen different Red Sox have led the American League in doubles, with several multiple-time winners. Carl Yastrzemski captured the doubles title three times and holds the team career record of 645 – well ahead of the 525 registered by Ted Williams. Williams twice led the AL in doubles with back-to-back titles in 1948 and 1949.

The gap between Sox players who've hit 40 doubles in a season and those who've hit at least 50 is canyon-like.

A Red Sox player has hit at least 40 doubles in a season just 24 times in the club’s lengthy history. The list includes Hall of Famers like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker and Wade Boggs, as well fan favorites like Johnny Pesky, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts.

But there are some modern Sox players on that list that might surprise some: John Valentin hit 47 doubles in 1997, Bill Buckner hit 46 in 1985, Bill Mueller hit 45 in 2003, Jody Reed hit 45 in 1990 and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 40 doubles in 2013 ( a club record for catchers).

Some Red Sox players made the achievement a habit. Wade Boggs leads the list, notching at least 40 doubles an amazing 8 times. Ortiz reached the mark five times. Nomar Garciaparra did it 4 times. Williams, Yastrzemski, Valentin and Pedroia each hit the mark 3 times. Meanwhile, Tris Speaker, Joe Cronin, Eddie Bressoud, Fred Lynn, Jody Reed, David Ortiz and Mookie Betts all hit at least 40 doubles twice.

Should Moreland maintain his current pace, he would join a rather illustrious group. Though it may be too early in the season to make such a projection, he certainly has a good shot at hitting 45 — a number that has been reached by a Sox player just 24 times in the club’s 117-year history.

That, in itself, would be quite an impressive achievement.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Power Outage in Boston; Where has the Red Sox Offense Gone?

Xander Bogaerts exemplifies the Red Sox tired, lackluster offense this season

More than a month into the 2017 season, the Red Sox are 15-14 and in third place in the AL East, four games behind New York and a half-game behind Baltimore. This is the same team that was the preseason favorite to win the AL Pennant. The good news is that they remain a game above .500.

Yet, the Sox have lost six of their last 10 games and are not trending in the right direction.

The starting rotation has mostly kept Boston competitive and in games. Chris Sale has a 1.38 ERA; Eduardo Rodriguez has a 3.07 ERA; Drew Pomeranz has a 4.00 ERA; and Rick Porcello has a 4.48 ERA, which should get better; right?

Boston this week lost knuckleballer Steven Wright to season-ending knee surgery, which could be a big blow given that he went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA and was an All-Star last year. The righty got off to a rough start this season, going 1-3 with an 8.25 ERA, but that was likely attributable to his knee injury, which began in spring training.

However, David Price has yet to throw a pitch this season and his presence will surely help to stabilize and improve this rotation.

Boston’s starters have a cumulative 4.18 ERA, which is 14th in the majors and 9th in the American League. No matter how you slice it, they’re middle of the pack, which is more than can be said for the Sox’ offense.

The Red Sox have topped four runs only four times in their last 15 games. Even worse, they have scored three runs or less in 12 of 29 games this season.

Boston is 27th in the majors (out of 30 teams), with just 110 runs scored. Unless your rotation and bullpen are consistently outstanding, it’s very difficult to maintain a winning record in that environment. Yet, the Sox have done it, albeit by just a single game.

The problem is attributable to a total power outage; the Red Sox have totaled just 19 home runs this season. Yankee phenom Aaron Judge has 13 all by himself. This is not the hallmark of a classic Red Sox team, which has been built on slugging for many decades.

Not a single Red Sox player is slugging as high as .500 this year. In fact, Christian Vazquez leads the club with a .467 slugging percentage. Yet, the Boston catcher has just four doubles, 1 triple and no home runs. Yeah, it’s that bad.

Guys who were expected to carry the Sox’ lineup and be run producers just aren’t getting the job done. Consider the following:

- Mookie Betts is slugging .420 with 13 RBI (he was runner up for the MVP last season)
- Pablo Sandoval is slugging .377 with 10 RBI (Sandoval is currently on the DL due to a knee sprain)
- Xander Bogaerts is slugging .370 with 6 RBI
- Dustin Pedroia is slugging .330 with 8 RBI
- Sandy Leon is slugging .286 with 6 RBI
- Jackie Bradley is slugging .263 with 6 RBI

That’s the bulk of the lineup and they’re not getting it done. It’s not enough production to win very many baseball games, making it all the more amazing that the Red Sox still have a winning record at this point.

The best this team and its fans can hope is that as the weather starts heating up, so does the offense. We’ve been hoping that for weeks, however.

Help is not on the way. Minor leaguers Sam Travis or Rafael Devers will not rescue this offense. Beyond, those two, most of the organization’s upper echelon of prospects has been traded away in recent years to obtain players such as Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz.

The trade deadline is still nearly three months away and ownership is determined to stay under the luxury tax threshold anyway. In other words, some big-time slugger won’t be arriving in Boston this summer to spark the offense. The players on the current roster will have to figure it out themselves. They need to be better and perform to their potential.

It should not be forgotten that the Red Sox had the best offense in baseball last year, leading the majors in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. That’s nearly every single statistical category. Yes, the Red Sox' offense was a juggernaut in 2016.

The only notable absence from last year’s roster is David Ortiz and though he was a world-class slugger, he was not the entire offense. It’s as if much of the lineup decided to retire their bats along with Ortiz's.

Hitting is said to be contagious, for better and for worse. If a couple of the above hitters can get going, it could have a broader impact, sparking the whole lineup.

It needs to happen sooner than later. This is the time of the year when teams want to pad their record with wins, before the grind of the 162-game schedule begins to take its toll in the season’s later months, in the form of fatigue and injuries.

One thing is for sure: we haven’t yet seen the best this Red Sox team has to offer. They’re surely better than this.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Early Returns on Red Sox 2013 Draft Not Looking Good

Lefty Trey Ball was selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2013 draft. Boston later selected righty Teddy Stankiewicz in the second round. The Sox had high hopes for both.

However, the pitchers are now ranked as the 29th and 25th best prospects, respectively, in the Red Sox system. With three-plus years of minor league experience under their belts, that's likely not what the Sox were expecting from the them at this point.

At 6'6" and 190 pounds, the 22-year-old Ball is a lanky left-hander with a thin frame, who scouts say "needs to fill out and add strength." However, they also says he "has great athleticism and is very projectable."

Though Ball has "middle of the rotation potential," according to his scouting report, he is "extremely raw, particularly for someone drafted so early and has a long way to go to reach that potential."

At 6'4" and 215 pounds, the 23-year-old Stankiewicz possesses a "solid pitcher's build with room for growth," since he is "on the thin side at present," reads the scouting report.

The expectations for Stankiewicz have clearly dropped in recent years. About him, the scouting report reads:

"Potential to be an emergency spot starter or long relief type. If command doesn’t improve and secondary pitches don’t develop, will have to move to the bullpen. Lacks an above-average offering, which limits upside."

The scouting report seems to indicate that Ball has the greater upside of the two, yet the former first rounder is ranked as only the 29th best prospect in the Red Sox system. That's not encouraging.

The status of these two pitchers reveals why scouting, drafting and development are so critical. The Sox may have essentially wasted the first two picks in the 2013 draft on pitchers who don't seem to have a lot of upside or major league potential.

At this point, both seem to be a long way from the big leagues.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What to Expect from the 2017 Red Sox

The Red Sox will open the 2017 season on Monday and the expectations are high for this group.

What exactly should we expect? Are the Sox the best team in the highly competitive AL East, meaning they will win the division? Are they, at the least, a playoff team? According to many experts, the answers are yes.

ESPN projects that Boston will claim the AL East title, winning 93 games, as do USA Today (94 wins) the St. Louis Dispatch (90 wins), Bleacher Report (91 wins) and the Arizona Republic.

The 2016 Red Sox claimed the AL East title by winning 93 games, yet were swept by Cleveland in the ALDS.

The biggest changes to this year’s team are the retirement of David Ortiz and the addition of Chris Sale. While the loss of Ortiz could make the offense weaker, the addition of Sale should make the rotation/defense stronger.

The Red Sox had the best offense in baseball last year, leading the majors in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. That’s nearly every single statistical category. Yes, the Red Sox' offense was a juggernaut in 2016.

While Ortiz was a key cog in that prolific machine, he was not the entire offense. In fact, Mookie Betts was runner up for the MVP Award, with nearly identical stats to winner Mike Trout. Ortiz aside, the rest of that high-powered offense returns in 2017, with the addition of first baseman Mitch Moreland.

For what it’s worth, Red Sox’ stats guru Bill James projects Moreland will produce the following numbers this season: 20 homers, 65 RBIs, 52 runs, .246 batting average, .310 on-base percentage, .431 slugging percentage, .741 OPS.

Though he has eclipsed the 20-homer plateau in three of the last four seasons, Moreland is actually a defensive specialist, having won the AL Gold Glove at first base with Texas last season. Any offensive boost he provides the Sox would be a bonus.

Boston will also benefit from a full season of Andrew Benintendi, who played in just 34 games for the Sox last year.

James makes the following projection for Benintendi this season: 38 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs, 73 RBI, 87 runs, .290 batting average, .352 OBP, .443 slugging, .794 OPS, 21 steals.

If James is accurate, or even close, with his projections for Moreland and Benintendi, the Red Sox offense should withstand the loss of Ortiz and be highly potent again this year.

Then we get to the Red Sox rotation, which, on paper at least, may be the best in baseball. Boston will feature 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, who will start the season on the disabled list. The addition of Chris Sale likely makes the Red Sox’ front three the most formidable in baseball.

James makes the following projection for Sale: 33 starts, 231 innings, 16-10 record, 3.04 ERA, 195 hits, 24 homers, 47 walks, 259 strikeouts.

Price posted a solid 17-9 record last season, but had a disappointing 3.99 ERA in 35 starts. The lefty led the majors with 230 innings pitched, but also gave up a league-leading 227 hits.

James envisions a bounce-back season for Price in 2017: 33 starts, 16-10 record, 3.22 ERA, 229 innings, 222 strikeouts, 48 walks, 23 homers, 211 hits

It should not be overlooked that both Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz were All Stars last season. What other team has All Stars in both the No. 4 and No. 5 rotation slots? None.

James makes the following projections for the Red Sox' fourth and fifth starters, as well as Eduardo Rodriguez, who will fill in for Price until he is healthy and who could replace another injured starter this season:

Wright: 30 starts, 198 innings, 11-11 record, 3.91 ERA, 152 strikeouts, 70 walks, 20 homers, 195 hits.

Pomeranz: 31 starts, 177 innings, 11-9 record, 3.92 ERA, 170 strikeouts, 67 walks, 21 homers, 163 hits.

Rodriguez: 31 starts, 172 innings, 10-9 record, 3.87 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 53 walks, 20 homers, 171 hits.

As is always the case, health will be the ultimate determinant to the Red Sox success this season. If Price’s elbow continues to be problematic, that would be equally problematic to the Red Sox' ambitions this season.

In the same way, the loss of a player such as Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley could also derail the Sox’ hopes and dreams.

If Boston’s key players remain mostly healthy this season and do not miss significant time, this club is clearly capable of winning the American League Pennant and even the World Series.

One thing is for sure, this team will be fun to watch, and 2017 should be a very exciting and eventful season for the Red Sox.

Let the games begin!