Week one goes into the books as somewhat less than a complete success...
- With the sweep at the hands of the less-than-spectacular Milwaukee Brewers, Boston starts the season 0-3 at Fenway for the first time since 1984's 0-4 start.
- The easiest thing to do in sports fandom and commentary is to over-react to a small sample size, either good or bad. To look at a team after one game or one week and make pronouncements about the way that it's structured or the "character" of its players, to treat six games (3.7% of the season) as a clear example of what the whole season will be.
- I am trying to avoid small sample overreaction, but some people aren't. In possibly the stupidest discussion I have ever heard, Gerry Callahan expressed the opinion this morning that the Red Sox problem is their plate discipline, that they're losing because they aren't swinging at first pitches enough. I suffered through about 10 minutes of it before I'd had more than enough.
- Callahan's thesis has several parts, including a) the Red Sox won't ever swing at a first pitch, so everyone just grooves the first pitch and b) they would rather take a walk than hit the ball. And, therefore, they would be much more successful if they would go up to the plate hacking. So, just out of curiosity, I looked at the last couple of games to try to tease out some of the numbers.
First pitch swing - .125/.125/.125 (1 single in 8 at-bats)
First pitch ball - .182/.182/.182 (2 singles in 11 at-bats)
First pitch strike looking - .353/.353/.471 (6 hits (2 2B) in 17 at-bats)
First pitch swing - .000/.000/.000 (0-for-11)
First pitch ball - .300/.461/.615 (3 walks, 2 2B, HR in 13 PA)
First pitch strike looking - .222/.222/.222 (4 1B in 18 at-bats)
First pitch swing - .052/.052/.052 (1 single in 19 at-bats)
First pitch ball - .238/.333/.381 (2 1B, 2 2B, HR, 3 BB in 24 PA)
First pitch strike looking - (.286/.286/.343 8 1B, 2 2B, 35 at-bats)
So, it is not true that they never swing at the first pitch. They did it 19 times over the weekend, and hit a cumulative .052/.052/.052, with one hit in 19 at-bats. They had one infield single from the six at-bats when they put the ball in place on the first pitch. When swinging at the first pitch and missing or fouling it off, they were 0-13. They were 0-11 on Sunday when swinging at the first pitch.
When taking the first pitch, they hit .267/.305/.393. They hit better with first pitch balls than first pitch strikes, but they hit much better when taking the first pitch than they did when swinging at it.
They hit .052/.052/.052 when swinging at the first pitch. They hit .267/.305/.393 when taking the first pitch. And Callahan thinks that the problem was they did too much of the latter, and wants them to do more of the former.
That really sounds like a recipe for success, huh?
- One of the interesting discussions during the World Series took place after game 5, when John Farrell was castigated in the sabremetric community, at least some parts of it, for letting Jon Lester hit in the 7th inning, rather than pulling him out. There were several people who identified that as the single worst managerial move of the post-season. And part of the rationale for that criticism is based on a data suggesting that the third time through the lineup, starting pitchers produce significantly worse results, to the extent that there is virtually never a time when there isn’t a reliever more likely to be successful. So as Lester took the mound for the seventh, I was looking at the box score, and thinking, “hmm, he’s four batters into the third time through. I wonder if this is a mistake.” And 10 seconds later, Nelson Cruz drove his first pitch of the inning into the left-field bleachers for the game winning run. [Note – this is not me second-guessing the manager because a) I thought it before the pitch was thrown and b) I wouldn’t have done it differently.]
- I was a Saltalamacchia fan and thought they should have tendered him. Nothing that's happened thus far has changed that opinion. In four plate appearances on Friday afternoon, Mike Napoli saw 27 pitches. In 16 plate appearances over five games on the season, Pierzynski has seen 38. Four of his 16 plate appearances have been one-pitch outs. That's what he is, but, at least in theory, he'll hit for an acceptable average, with a little power. We'll have to wait and see, but I've got little patience for him. If, two months into the season, it looks like he's done, I hope they'll be quick to pull the plug and turn to Vazquez. If I've got to put up with a catcher making automatic outs, I'd rather it be a young one with promise and potential to get better.
- In Saturday night's game, the Red Sox pitching staff struck out 18, including, for the first time in team history, three-plus strikeouts from five different pitchers. They lost in eleven innings anyway.
- The bullpen looked like a strength coming into the season, and it looks like a strength today. For the most part, they've pitched very well in relief, with five of the seven relievers not yet having allowed a run. The exception to the general bullpen competence is, of course, Edward Mujica, whose ninth-inning (bad-call aided) meltdown during the home opener pretty much eliminated any chance of extending their home-opener winning streak.
- And here's the part where I take MLB to task for the replay system. I am, and long have been, a propent of using instant replay, but am not, and never have been, a fan of the "manager's challenge" system.
I've written that
...baseball people continue to support the current system, a system in which n-6 (where n is the number of people in the world) people know that a runner being called out is safe or that a runner being called safe is out, and the 6 who don't know are allowed to determine the outcome anyway. Even more frustrating is the belief that some kind of replay usage would require long periods of time or limited manager challenges. Why on earth doesn't MLB just place another umpire somewhere where he can see all the replays, and let him correct the obviously wrong calls?
The position that I do not understand is the one espoused by Jayson Stark, who wants to "give each manager one challenge a night to use however he wants to use it -- except for ball/strike calls." Why get the manager involved at all? If the call is wrong, and it's correctable by replay, why wait until the manager gets a look at it and then challenges before letting a guy with video screens tell the ump that he got it wrong? Why add that extra step? Doesn't that just increase those delays that you're concerned about? In fact, if the players and umpires both know that correctable bad calls will be immediately corrected by a replay official, then the repeated long arguments over blown calls go away.
And what if that had been Joyce's second blown call of the game, and Leyland had challenged the first one in the sixth inning? We'd be in exactly the same situation today, except that baseball would be even more of a laughing stock. We'd be looking at an obviously blown call that cost a player an official perfect game despite the fact that you'd implemented rules to specifically overrule bad blown calls, only you weren't able to use it because the manager had already used his challenge!
In fact, this is a relatively simple problem. Somewhere in the league offices in New York, there are already all of the video feeds from all of the games. Set up 16 multiple monitor viewing stations, put an umpire or two in front of each, and give them the equipment to communicate with the head umpire on the field and the authority to correct the obviously blown calls. All of them. If it isn't obvious, play continues. If it is, you take the base-runner off the field or put him back on. If the NHL can do that - and it can - then why not baseball?
So we've got two instances of the problem this weekend in Boston. The second one, I'm going to mostly blame John Farrell's "challenge or not" guy, because as soon as we saw a single replay of Bradley crossing first base yesterday, it was obvious that there was no way it was going to get overturned, and Farrell went ahead and challenged anyway. So if something egregious had subsequently occurred, they'd have had no way to challenge it. It was a bad, wasted challenge.
But the second instance occurred in the ninth inning meltdown on Friday, and that's MLB's fault. There's nothing that Farrell can do after the seventh inning - MLB has to make the decision to review, and they didn't. Well, whoever was responsible for reviewing that screwed up. To review - with Khris Davis on second and no outs, the batter bunted the ball. Mujica fielded it and threw to third. Davis reached the bag just before Middlebrooks applied the tag to his backside, but, with the tag still in place, Davis's foot came off the bag. Runner out, so there's a runner at first with one out in a tie game. Except that he was called safe, and this awesome new system that Major League Baseball has implemented to get the calls right is not used.
If you're not going to use it there, not even going to look at a pivotal play that the umpire's pretty clearly screwed up, what's the point?
- Just so there's no misunderstanding here, I am not exonerating Mujica for his execrable performance. He was dreadful, horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad. But if the out call is made at third, there's no telling what happens next. Pitching with the go-ahead run at third and no outs is very different from pitching with a runner at first and one out.
- Red Sox Player of the Week - There actually were several good performances this week, including Ortiz and Napoli, David Ross and Dustin Pedroia. But the strongest was clearly the current front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year, Xander Bogaerts (.381/.480/.476/.956, 4.97 runs created, 9.56 RC/25 outs).
- Red Sox Pitcher of the Week - I know that if you look at the lines, you see that Jon Lester is 0-2. But he's also pitched the best, and most, of the starters, and been victimized by poor defense and worse run support. The Red Sox have scored 1 run in total in his two starts.
AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/7/2014
Top 5 projections (using current winning %)
Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)
Standings for the week
Labels: 2014 Red Sox, pythagorean, Red Sox