Sunday, November 2, 2008

Offseason Priorities Are Teixeira and A Catcher

Last week, I expressed my skepticism of the rumors that the Red Sox are interested in Mark Teixeira. But there continue to be rumors about the Red Sox heavily pursuing the free agent switch hitter. It's quite possible that these rumors are being circulated with the purpose of driving up Teixeira's price for other teams e.g. the Yankees.

At first glance, the Red Sox offense doesn't appear to need much improvement. They scored the third most runs in baseball last year (845) with significant injuries to David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew. Compare this to their team ERA of 4.01, which ranked 9th in baseball. But this ignores the hitting friendly environment of Fenway Park, where the Red Sox played half of their games.

While Fenway Park was one of the worst home run hitting parks in baseball for the third year in a row, it was the 5th easiest park in which to score a run last year. It was 7.7% easier to score a run in Fenway Park last year than it was in an offensively neutral park, mostly because it was by far the most double friendly park in the majors (58.9% easier to hit a double than an offensively neutral ballpark). The Red Sox scored an incredible 77 more runs at home than they did on the road. Among all major league teams last year, that was the second most extreme difference in home and away runs scored.

A quick look at OPS+ vs. ERA+ confirms that the Red Sox greatest need is offense. Considering park factor, the Red Sox were 8 points above league average in OPS+ and 14 points above average in ERA+. So it makes sense that they'd be interested in the greatest hitter on the free agent market. Teixeira has averaged an OPS+ of 151 the last four seasons. Think Manny Ramirez in 2004 when he hit 43 home runs and drove in 130 runs with the benefit of Fenway Park and a good Red Sox lineup. And you know Teixeira's .400+ OBP the last two years and gold glove defense are giving Epstein a baseball boner.

Once the Red Sox attempt to replace Manny's spot in the order, placing Teixeira in the middle of a lineup which already includes David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay and J.D. Drew, they will turn to their catcher situation. The Red Sox have three options here. They could resign Jason Varitek and stand pat. They could trade a pitcher (Masterson, Buccholz, Bowden) to Texas for Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Gerald Laird. Or the Red Sox could attempt to trade Mike Lowell for Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero who is struggling to get playing time behind Chris Snyder.

Of the three catchers, Gerald Laird is by far the best defensive catcher. He also has a live arm, throwing out 37.8% of baserunners over his career. But he also has the least upside with the bat where he's inconsistent and over aggresive. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the greatest offensive upside, hitting .274/.370/.455 in 1401 minor league at bats since coming out of high school. At the major league level, he's hit .261/.327/.399 and is still only 23 years old. Montero would provide a backup option, should the Red Sox not sign Varitek or be able to trade for a Texas catcher.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The City of Brotherly Love

I thought about writing something about the Phillies winning Game 5, but frankly it lost it's luster after it was suspended for the second time. Instead, I'm going to focus on the aftermath of Game 5. Every city has riots after their team wins the World Series, I'm not bashing Philadelphia fans. But last night's riots were especially out of control.

Cars were burned, street signs and lights were vandalized, a fire truck was stolen, store windows smashed in, police officers assaulted, and in the end 76 people were arrested. Of course it had to be 76 people in Philadelphia. But that's about the only humorous part of last night's events.

There's no excuse for the rioting. Granted, the true fans are probably in their warm homes celebrating with friends, or standing outside the ballpark celebrating. It's mostly drunk opportunists that cause the destruction. But a championship is supposed to be a celebration of a city, not an excuse to vandalize one.

Here's some of the footage from last night. It's pretty incredible.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kenshin Kawakami Declares Interest In Sox, Hires Ichiro's Agent

Kenshin Kawakami, the ace of the NPB (Japan's equivalent to the major leagues) champion Chinuchi Dragons, has declared that he'd like to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. And two days ago, he went a step further, hiring American sports agent Tony Attanasio. Attanasio is best known for representing Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Kawakami is Japans highest paid starter, earning $3 million a year. Japanese contracts are largely symbolical, and when the Chinuchi Dragons tried to give Kawakami a paycut after one of the best years of his career in 2007, they more-or-less sealed his fate. He's almost certain to head to the U.S. and cash in on our more expensive contracts.

The Red Sox, along with the Rays have expressed interest in the 33-year-old righty. And at least eight other major league teams had scouts at the Beijing Olympics, in which Kawakami pitched. But would Kawamaki be a good fit for the Red Sox?

Kawakami has a career ERA of 3.22 in 257 starts in Japan. There are concerns that he could be the next Kei Igawa, considering that he's been home run prone in Japan, and he typically throws in the high 80's. And this is a significant concern. Kawakami gave up nearly a home run every 9 innings in Japan, which was more frequent than even Igawa.

However, Kawakami's control is much bette than Igawa's. Over his career in Japan, Kawakami averaged 1.92 walks per 9 innings of work. That's signifcantly less than Igawa's average of 2.86 walks per 9 innings of work. Kawakami had a career WHIP of 1.16 in Japan compared to Igawa's 1.24.

Unlike Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kawakami is known for challenging hitters. His cutter has the reputation of being the best in Japan. He also features a very slow (think knuckleball slow) knee-buckling curve. He also features a forkball and a shuuto which is like a hard slider that breaks down and in to righties.

If Kawakami translates well to the majors, he could provide production similar to Curt Schilling on the end of his career. He has comparable gaudy K/BB ratios (6.30 K/BB in 2007). Both righties threw in their high 80's, and were home run prone. But still, but were known as crafty, big game pitchers.

But I think it's far more likley that Kawakami's production is similar to that of Hiroki Kuroda. If that's the case, he wouldn't have much use in the Red Sox rotation. But some have suggested that he could be used as a swing man, eating innings in the bullpen and providing insurance for the rotation.

Here are Kawakami's career stats
, minus his 2.30 ERA in 117 innings this year. And here's a short video of him pitching. The amount of fastballs he's using is a bit concerning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Howard Deals Crippling Blow to Rays

Last night when Ryan Howard hit his three run blast in the fourth inning, I got the feeling that the Rays were done. The next inning, when Joe Blanton became the first pitcher in 34 years to hit a home run in the World Series, I knew the Rays were done.

These aren't the same Rays that topped the Red Sox in the ALCS. Noticeably absent are the bats of Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. Those two driving forces of the Rays offense have yet to get a hit in the World Series.

These Rays look worn out, they look inexperienced, they look sloppy. With their two errors last night, they looked an awful lot like the Devil Rays. Maybe they exhausted themselves getting past the Red Sox, or maybe they ate some bad cheesesteaks. But even for someone rooting for the Phillies, it's painful to watch the Rays play so well all year only to forget to show up to the big dance.

Maybe the real Rays will show up tonight. But with Hamels pitching, I doubt it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Youkilis Honored, Manny Humanized

MLB handed out the Hank Aaron award today. This award is voted on by fans to honor the best offensive player in each league. National League honors were given to Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and American League honors were handed out to none other than Kevin Youkilis.

In February of this year
, I pointed out how Youkilis' bat has improved every year with the Red Sox. This year, we finally saw Youkilis become an elite offensive force. The gold glove first baseman hit .312 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI.

In other news today, Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe reminds us that Manny wasn't all bad. When he wasn't driving in 100 runs or hitting postseason home runs, he had his moments when he was a good teammate. In 2003, he sat out the final game of the season to ensure that Bill Mueller would win the batting title.

Speaking of "The Professional", earlier this month he admitted that he's itching to suit up again. Mueller's 38 and barely has any cartilage left in his knees, but wouldn't it be great to see him in uniform just one more time? Perhaps the Red Sox could offer him a symbolic invitation to Spring Training so he could retire with the Red Sox, like the Yankees did with Jeff Nelson last year.

Free Agent Options - Mark Teixeira

Teixeira would be a welcome addition to any team. It's not too often that a gold glove caliber, switch hitting power threat comes along. And with the health concerns for David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell, Teixeira would provide the middle of the Red Sox lineup with some stability. For this reason, the Sox are sure to check the price on Teixeira.

Still, I don't think the chances of seeing "Tex" in a Red Sox uniform next year are very good. Before the Red Sox get in on the bidding, they would have to find a way to move Mike Lowell and the $24 million left on his contract over the next two years. It's unlikely that the Red Sox would be able to move Lowell without paying for some of his contract, which would waste money the Red Sox could use on free agents like AJ Burnett and Brian Fuentes.

Once the Red Sox found a suitor for Lowell, they would then have to enter a bidding war with the Angels, Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles and Braves. Epstein has over payed for players in the past such as J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo. But those were moves of necessity. Going into 2007 the Red Sox were without a shortstop and rightfielder. When it comes to luxuries, Epstein has been hesitant to overpay, or give out longterm contracts as was the case with Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon.

Another factor which makes any Teixeira deal unlikely is the prescense of Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson. Anderson is not only the team's top prospect, but also the best first baseman prospect in the game. He hit .316/.436/.526 last year in the pitching friendly environment of Double-A Portland. There's a good chance that he'll be ready to take over the job of everyday first baseman in 2010, at which point the Red Sox will already have Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz under contract. So why would Epstein overpay to add one more corner outfielder to the log jam?

Teixiera's most likely destination next year is probably the Yankees who actually need a first baseman and won't hesitate to overpay for one. While such a signing will be unpleasant for Red Sox fans, it won't do anything to address the Yankees greatest weakness - pitching.

Friday, February 15, 2008

In House Starting Depth

Much has been made of the starters already in the Red Sox rotation. And should one of them go down before a possible Schilling return, Julian Tavarez could temporarily fill a place in the rotation. He pitched the majority of the 2007 season in the rotation, but I don't consider him a quality option for an extended period of time.

There's always the possibility of a trade for someone like Joe Blanton or Ben Sheets. But the Red Sox would be wise to look to their farm system first, where they could find a quality replacement. Going into the season, here are some of the major in house candidates.

Devern Hansack - Hansack is a now 30-year-old prospect that the Red Sox scooped up as an international free agent. Since the Red Sox acquired him prior to the 2006 season, he's had a 1.19 WHIP and a 3.36 K/BB over 272 innings of work at the Double-A and Triple-A level.

Hansack's would be an ideal candidate for a call up because he throws a lot of strikes. He rarely issues walks and is a pretty good strikeout pitcher. Hansack features a low 90's fastball, an above average change up and a plus slider which generates a lot of strikeouts.

Michael Bowden - Bowden is 21-year-old strikeout pitcher who is one of the Red Sox top rated prospects. On the back of a solid Double-A performance last year, Bowden posted mind blowing numbers in Lancaster to begin the season. He posted an ERA of 1.37, a strike out an inning and a WHIP of 0.93 in one of the more hitter friendly parks in professional baseball.

But he struggled at the end of 2007, when he was promoted to Double-A Portland. He actually allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his career. His ERA inflated to 4.28 and his WHIP to 1.43. Bowden features a low 90's fastball, a hard curve, a plus slider and an average changeup. Bowden's pitches are considered very advanced for his age and he's a hard worker so I'd expect to see him on the Red Sox soon.

Justin Masterson - Masterson is a 22-year-old sinkerball pitcher who also ranks as one of the Red Sox best prospects. Despite pitching most of last year in the freakishly hitter friendly environment of Lancaster, he managed to hold it together and get a promotion to Double-A. At the Double-A level he then allowed 7.6 hits per 9, stuck out more than a batter an inning and had a WHIP of 1.16.

What makes Masterson unique is that not only is he very effective at inducing ground balls, but he's also a strikeout pitcher. Last year at Double-A, the amount of outs that he got on ground balls was more than three times the amount of outs he get in the air. For reference, Derek Lowe was the only pitcher able to do that at the major league level last year. He features a sinker, a hard sinker (there's a 10 mph difference between the two), a plus slider and an average changeup.

Craig Breslow - Breslow is a 27-year-old lefty. He's spent two years at Triple-A Pawtucket since the Red Sox acquired him in 2006. In 2006 he had an ERA of 2.69, struck out more than 10 batters for every nine innings of work and had a WHIP of 1.09. But in 2007, Breslow struggled a bit. While his other stats remained rather consistent, his hit rate jumped from 6.58 H/9 to 9.17 H/9.

Perhaps the largest knock on Breslow is that he can be inconsistent. At the same time, he's had previous success at the major league level in limited innings. Over 28.1 innings of major league work, he has an ERA of 2.86, has stuck out more than a batter an inning, and has a WHIP of 1.31. He features a high 80's fastball, an average changeup and a plus curveball.