Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Red Sox stuff

A couple of odds and ends as we go inside two weeks to opening day:

  • I've not yet done a real analysis of what I expect this year. But I think that they're going to be very strong. I think that they should expect better run prevention, with improved defense at SS and 2B (and possibly 1B), and improved pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. I think that they've downgraded offensively at SS, and probably 3B. I think that C is likely to show some offensive decline as well, with Varitek now 34 and Bard probably an offensive downgrade from Mirabelli. But I think that the outfield, 1B and 2B could all show offensive improvement. They scored 910 runs last year. My gut reaction is that 900 again this year would not shock me. This has the potential, again, to be an excellent team.

  • Which is not to say that there aren't question marks. Because there are. I expect Schilling to be much closer to 2004 Schilling than 2005 Schilling, but I could be wrong. I expect Foulke to rebound, but again, I could be wrong. If Manny or Ortiz get hurt, if Nixon gets hurt (which is not unlikely), if Lowell doesn't bounce back at all, if Crisp goes down or just can't play in Boston (which I think is unlikely), if Beckett spends more time on the DL than in the rotation, those are all things that could have a significant negative effect on the record. If Varitek gets hurt, they've got a real problem behind the plate. If Gonzalez gets hurt, it probably helps the team, but that's the only position where that is true.

  • We all have knee-jerk reactions to things. When I heard of the Arroyo-Peña trade yesterday, I almost knocked myself out when my knee hit the side of my head. Had I written about it when I first heard it, it would have been hard work to edit the profanity out.

    Upon further reflection, I think it's a decent trade. I'm not certain that it makes the team better, because it might not. But it's conceivable that it will. It definitely helps make them younger, which, all else being equal, is a good thing, but it's not enough reason to make a bad talent swap. Older and better is better than younger and worse...

    The reason my knee jerked is this:
    Wily Mo Peña - Career OBP: .303


    I'm an OBP guy. That's what I want to see from my hitters, first, last and always. It's the first thing that I look at, it's the most important thing a hitter does. Gary Huckaby used to say "OBP is life and life is OBP." I used to say (and still do, on occasion) "OBP uber alles!"

    But sometimes you've got to look beyond, and it is undeniable that there are extenuating circumstances in the case of Peña. He was signed to a Major League contract at age 17, which meant that he had to be in the big leagues at age 20, despite the fact that he wasn't ready to be there. At an age when he should have been polishing, figuring out how to hit, how to work pitchers, how to lay off breaking balls, down in the minors, he was sitting on the bench in the Majors. From the ages of 21-23, he's only got 812 at-bats. That's not enough to improve anything.

    He has excellent power. In the last two years, he's got 45 HR in only 647 AB. Of the 183 ML hitters who've got 15+ HR over the last two seasons, his AB/HR rate is 17th. He strikes out way too much, which doesn't particularly interest me, and walks way too little, which does. GM Theo Epstein was saying yesterday that there are historical examples of players with power but no plate discipline who develop it, but we're talking about an extreme lack of plate discipline here. Really, the historical examples boil down to one - Sammy Sosa. Now obviously, if Pena does produce Sammy Sosa ca. 1999 type performance over the next 4-5 years, then it isn't a good trade - it's a great trade. I think that's unlikely, but it is possible. Apparently, there are indicators that he's starting to learn how to lay off the slider, at least occasionally, from right-handed pitchers, which would go a long way towards making him a productive hitter. If he could become a consistent .270/.350/.550 performer, this is a very good deal. I think .260/.330/.550 is more likely, but even that's a productive corner outfielder - just not a star.

    And he makes a good platoon partner for Trot Nixon.

    Career splits
    PlayerSplitsG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K AVG OBP SLG OPS

    Trot Nixon vs. Left 390516681111851056581380.2150.3040.3280.632

    vs. Right 8382388420699162231154153364270.2930.3790.5240.903

    Wily Mo Peña vs. Left 1272573770110194622960.2720.3420.5370.879

    vs. Right 272573711362223288321920.2370.2850.450.736

    As we can see here, Peña's already been a very productive hitter against left-handed pitching. He'll never be a full-time player until he can hit right-handed pitching, but as a platoon partner for Nixon, that's a good addition. The two of them put together, in a fairly strict platoon, make a ~.890 OPS right-fielder, which is a big upgrade from what they got last year.

    So, as I say, I think that the potential upside is very high, and the potential downside is this - they don't get to trade Arroyo for something else. I think that they'll be able to run pitchers better than Bronson Arroyo out to the mound pretty consistently for the next 4-5 years, so I don't think his loss is a huge detriment, and there's the potential that Pena turns into a pretty good player. He's certainly more likely to be a major league asset in 2007 than any other outfielders in the Red Sox system.

  • I've seen a lot of commentary about how the Red Sox "screwed" Bronson Arroyo, how he gave them the "hometown discount" and they gave him a verbal no-trade, which they've now violated. It is clear that Arroyo wanted to stay, but everyone, including Bronson, said at the time that there was no promise, no "handshake." What they said, according to everyone involved, was that there wasn't any deal in the works. There was a lot of speculation that they were going to sign Arroyo and immediately flip him to Seattle for Jeremy Reed or Tampa for Julio Lugo or Cleveland for Coco Crisp. The Red Sox told Bronson that they had nothing currently in the works in terms of trading him, but there were no promises, no commitments going forward. Everyone knew that this made him a more valuable trading commodity, and his agent actually went public at the time, advising him not to do it for just that reason. He signed it with his eyes open, and the Red Sox clearly didn't lie, as none of those speculated deals happened. He eventually did get traded, which he didn't want, and that's life, but they didn't "screw" him, or lie to him. They did business, as he did when he signed it...

  • Opening day is less than 2 weeks away...



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