Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bigger, stronger and scarier?

Well, we've got a masterpiece of hyperbole, ignorance, misinformation, fear-mongering and strawmen from Tony Massarotti in his blog for the Globe this morning. Did this run in the paper? I assume so, but I haven't seen one, so I cannot say for sure. In any event, there are numerous tidbits that fall somewhat short of intellectually satisfying.

In the final days of July 2008, the baseball landscape was decisively altered. That was when Mark Teixeira went to Los Angeles. That was when Manny Ramirez left Boston. That was when the Angels and Red Sox all but swapped identities and philosophies.

What were those identities before? What are they now? How did those trades "all but swap" them? There are, of course, no answers to these questions. The Angels added a great hitter, the Red Sox traded a great hitter for a very good one. I don't see how this indicates, in any way, that they have "swapped identities and philosophies," and I don't see Tony clarifying.

So now here we are, on the eve of October, and let there be no doubt: The Los Angeles Angels are the team to beat in the American League.

For the Red Sox, they certainly are. For Minnesota or Chicago, Tampa is the team to beat. For Los Angeles, Boston is the team to beat. At least right now.

They won 100 games this season while finishing with a winning percentage of .585 or better against the AL East, Central, and West; during the second half of the season, the Angels hit more home runs and scored more runs (albeit in two more games) than the Red Sox did.

Did they? Really?

Let's see...

Well, look at that. They did, in fact, outscore the Red Sox after the All Star break. But, as he acknowledged, the Red Sox played fewer games. And did, on a per game basis, outscore the Angels.

And that's not even relevant to his thesis. His thesis was that the two teams "swapped identities" after the trade. So what happened after the Angels acquired Texeira?

Red Sox vs. Angels - stats after July 29





Along the way, the delicate balance of power shifted from the east to the west.

And again I say, "Hmmm..."

If you're anything like me, you'll search long and hard in that data for evidence of this shift in the "delicate balance of power." Since the Texeira and Ramirez trades, the Red Sox have scored more runs than the Angels in fewer games, with fewer runs allowed per game, and posted a better record. They've hit for a better average, and done a better job reaching base and hitting for power.

And again I say, "Hmmm..."

"They're the best team we've faced," one Red Sox official said of the Angels.

Oh, well that settles that. I mean, you never, ever, ever hear a team official say that about an upcoming playoff opponent, so it must be true.

Those words were uttered months ago, before the Angels added a slugger and the Red Sox lost one, a proverbial two-game swing that resulted in a familiar Hollywood script. From "Freaky Friday'' to ""Trading Places" to ""Like Father, Like Son,'' the storyline is generally the same. The principals swap bodies and/or identities, and each gets to experience life on the other side.

This would read a lot less idiotic if there were any evidence that anything of the sort had actually happened. If we go back and (I know, it's not really fair to Tony, because it ruins his whole story) look at the numbers, we'll see that LAA was six games ahead of Boston when Texeira arrived, seven games ahead of Boston when Manny left, and five games ahead of Boston when the season ended.

Really, Tony, a little bit of simple research would have suggested that you might be able to find an angle on this story that isn't, you know, diametrically opposed to the facts.

In this case, the principals might as well have switched uniforms.

Because, well, you know that, um...

I'm sorry, I can't even figure out what this is supposed to mean.

As most every Red Sox follower is certain to point out in the next 24-36 hours, there are more than just five months difference between April and October; the games now are entirely different.

Read "most every Red Sox follower" as "convenient media strawman." And to the extent that anyone is going to be using that whole "entirely different" thing, it's because the media has hammered sports fans with it from time immemorial.

The Angels had home field advantage against the Red Sox in 2004 only to be unceremoniously swept from the first round of the playoffs in three lopsided games.

The last of which was so lopsided that Boston was able to win in only 10 innings.

Last year, the series opened in Boston and the Angels similarly were blown off the field.

Honestly, Tony, there's no sin in reporting facts. Yes, the series were both sweeps. That doesn't mean that some of the games weren't close (tied in the bottom of the 9th qualifies, I think, as a close game) and it doesn't hurt any honest argument to acknowledge that.

In such cases, history is a convenient crutch,

For who? This seems to be suggesting that vast sections of Red Sox nation expect Boston to sweep the Angels again. I haven't followed the media closely, or talked to a large percentage of Red Sox nation, but I haven't heard or seen anyone express such a thought. Is this a real point, or just a strawman to pummel? I suspect (strongly) the latter.

though we all know the truth: Those games mean nothing now.

If we all know that then, who, exactly, are you writing this for?

The Los Angeles lineups encountered by the Sox in 2004 and 2007 were quite different from the one the Sox will encounter now,

The 2007 Angels were 4th in the AL in runs/game. The 2008 Angels were 10th, though if they'd scored at the post-Texeira rate all year, they'd have been...4th.

and not solely because of Teixeira's arrival. Torii Hunter has since joined these Angels, arriving as a free agent in the offseason. Garret Anderson is healthy this year (unlike last) and someone like Jose Guillen has not been suspended (as he was in 2004), which means that Red Sox pitchers are going to have a far more difficult time pitching to the Angels in 2008 than they did in either '04 or '07.

Please, don't rely on history as a factor in this series. Of all people, Boston fans should know better. If the Red Sox win Game 1 and doubts start creeping into the heads of Angels players, it has a great deal more to do with mental toughness (or lack thereof) than it does with anything that took place on the field last year or in '04.

I'd love to see all of this analysis he's referring to that has the Red Sox winning this because they won in 2004 and 2007. There must be a ton of it to justify this tone of benign condescension.

Relative to '04 and '07, Red Sox pitchers are going to have their hands full in this series because the Angels can score in more ways now.

I love that. They can "score in more ways now!" I'm dying to know what those are. I assume he's not talking about home runs, because they could score with home runs before. Sacrifice flies, runners scoring from third on wild pitches, runners scoring from first on triples, runners scoring from second on wild throws into the dugout - they could score in all of those ways before. What are the new ones? Running backward from first to home after balks? Ground rule home runs on Baltimore chops foul balls that bounce into the third base ball girls uniform top? The mind boggles. I'm dying to find out, but Tony doesn't bother to mention it. What do we have beat writers for if they're going to tease us with this stuff and fail to deliver the goods?

Since joining the Angels, Teixeira has batted .358 with 13 home runs, 43 RBIs, 39 runs scored and 32 walks (against just 23 strikeouts) in 54 games; he has slugged .632 and has an OPS of 1.081.

Great hitter hits Great! Film at 11!

During that same period of time, Garret Anderson has been all but reborn, batting .335. (He went 8 for 10 in his first two games with Teixeira in the lineup.)

And what has he done since those two games? .309/.335/.442/.777
And for the season as a whole? .293/.325/.433/.760
Quite a "rebirth."

Meanwhile, Vladimir Guerrero went from batting .284 and slugging .478 (before Teixeira) to hitting .345 and slugging .614 (after Teixeira).


(Before we continue, Tony, I want you to go over to google and search for "post hoc, ergo propter hoc"...

Quick quiz: How many times in has Vladimir Guerrero had a better 45 game stretch (measured by Runs Created) than this current stretch with Mark Texeira "protecting" him?

a. 0 (Tony says we can credit Texeira for Guerrero's performance, and he would lie)
b. 1 (OK, maybe he had a fluke somewhere without protection - he is a great hitter)
c. 10 (Well, that sounds farfetched)
d. 352 (Gotta give one whacko off-the-chart answer, right?)

Now, close your eyes and imagine the Jeopardy music playing...


d. 352

That's right. Now, obviously, there's a ton of overlap in those 352 previous stretches. But there's room for almost 8 45 games stretches in 352. So maybe, just maybe possibly, we cannot attribute Guerrero's performance to Texeira. Maybe, just maybe possibly, Guerrero had a better second half than first half and Texeira's addition to the lineup had nothing to do with it.

But then, given where we live, we should hardly be surprised. By now, we should understand the impact a great hitter can have on a lineup.

Some of us do. Yet the media persists in feeding us the protection myth anyway.

In this case, as far as the Red Sox are concerned, the departure of Manny Ramirez now looms larger amid the uncertainty surrounding Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew, each of whom is injured. In last year's division series, as if flipping a switch, Ramirez morphed from a deteriorating Hall of Famer into a force again, going 3 for 8 with two homers (one a game-winner against Francisco Rodriguez that is now somewhere over Canada) and five walks; the ripple effect on the Boston lineup was tremendous. No less an authority than Theo Epstein admitted the Sox were a "different team" when Ramirez (in particular) and David Ortiz were firing on all cylinders, and that explosiveness is something the Sox no longer possess.

Let me get this straight. When you have inner circle hall-of-famers "firing on all cylinders," that makes for "explosiveness?" Who knew? Thank God we have Tony to bring us these insights.

Said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge during the Indians' visit to Fenway Park last week: "For a while there, when you thought about Boston, you though about those two guys in the middle, who were probably one of the great combinations of all-time."

Yes. They were. They aren't here together anymore. Shall we try to muddle through, or are you trying to gently let us know that the Red Sox have no chance?

If all of this is interpreted as some suggestion that the Sox erred in dealing away Ramirez, that is not the point;

This is rather a heartening sentence at this point - it implies that there actually is a point coming.

rather, it just means that the Red Sox are now facing an opponent with more firepower, something that would be true even if Drew and Lowell were fully healthy.

And that, presumably, is it.

So let's look at it. It seems to me that there are two possible meanings.

1) "The Red Sox are now facing an opponent with more firepower" [than that opponent previously had.]
2) "The Red Sox are now facing an opponent with more firepower" [than the Red Sox have.]

I find the evidence in support of either proposition somewhat less than compelling. In terms of proposition 1, the Angels with Texeira were on a pace to finish 4th in the AL in runs/game, the same position (4th) in which they finished last year. In terms of proposition 2, the Red Sox scored more runs in fewer games following the trades than the Angels did, with a higher team batting average, OBP and SLG.

In other words, whatever he meant there, he's wrong.

Earlier this month, when the Sox were in Tampa, one player said he was convinced that the Red Sox would not have been preparing for the postseason had Ramirez remained with the club. As is the case with any trade, the Red Sox had to give something to get something.

Whatever. Water under bridge, over dam, spilt milk, etc. Not relevant to a discussion of the relative merits of the Red Sox and Angels.

The Red Sox need to beat the Angels differently now -- with pitching, defense and speed as much as with power.

Words of wisdom: They need pitching to beat them this year. Unlike last year when they allowed 4 runs in the three game series.

They need to avoid big mistakes against the middle of the Los Angeles lineup. They need to keep Angels' tablesetters off the bases. And they need to maximize their scoring opportunities because they don't have the kind of lineup that can be counted on to land the big blow.

I don't get to talk to Theo, but I held a seance with Connie Mack. It turns out that they also need to give 110%, come to play ball, give it all they've got and put a good swing on the ball.

The other guys are bigger, stronger, and scarier now.

Bigger, stronger and scarier than what?

More than anyone, the Red Sox should understand what they are up against.

Because Tony says so.

Please. Piffle. Utter drivel, the bleatings of the media sheeple. And I expect to read essentially the same thing tomorrow at all of the national websites, in the Herald, in the LA Times, etc. There's the media storyline for the week.

Now, will the Red Sox sweep the Angels again? I wouldn't bet on it. Will the Angels sweep the Red Sox? After all, they took 8 of 9 during the regular season. I wouldn't bet on that, either. I wouldn't bet on baseball, period. There's no way of knowing, and I said this last year, and the year before, and I'll say it now, and I'll say it again tomorrow in my playoff preview, a five-game series tells you nothing about the relative merits of the two teams involved. It just doesn't. That's the way that baseball works. There's too much variation in performance on any given day for the results of any given game to mean anything in the broader scope. I don't have any idea who'll win the series, and I'm not going to pretend that I do. But this kind of nonsense is just irritating. I avoid the vast majority of it, but Tony sucked me in and ticked me off today.

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