June 12, 2007


Bad News in Bronx: Red Sox May Be Underachieving (TIM MARCHMAN, June 12, 2007, NY Sun)

Their leadoff man is hitting .213 with a .278 OBA, their center fielder is hitting .224 with a .281 OBA, and their $70 million right fielder is hitting .244 with four home runs. Their cleanup hitter is tied for 67th in the major leagues in home runs with eight. How did the Red Sox end up with a 9.5 game lead on the Yankees?

The easy, and as it happens, correct answer is that the Yankees took some hits early in the season, while Boston turned out to have a better pitching staff than anyone had given them credit for. Certainly, Boston pitching has been one of the biggest stories of the season so far — after correcting for park effects, the 3.92 runs a game they're allowing is vastly better than any team in the league. Josh Beckett's long-awaited emergence as a fullblown ace, Hideki Okajima's stunning first two months as a set-up man, and the refusal of Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield to pitch like 40-year-olds deserve a great deal of credit for Boston's 40-22 record, the best in baseball. Still, something seems amiss when a team can watch a third of its lineup play as badly as Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, and J.D. Drew and still run up a divisional lead nearly twice as big as any other in the game. Are the Sox due for a crash?

Unhappily for Yankees fans, probably not. If anything, the Red Sox are probably more likely to play better than they have over the rest of the season than they are to suddenly collapse. The problem is that while a few Sox players are having genuinely awful campaigns, the players hitting better than could have been expected aren't punching that much above their weight. If everyone just starts to hit as they usually do, the Sox offense will actually improve.

Even more remarkable is that David Ortiz's overall numbers obscure how little use he's been to the team so far. Red Sox fans have been spoiled by just how clutch he's been the past few years, but that's over-corrected to the point where he has almost no important hits thus far this season and even just went three weeks without a homerun.

Beating the Patsies Is a Good Place To Start (STEVEN GOLDMAN, June 12, 2007, NY Sun)

The traditional formula for winning a pennant is that you need to stomp the bad teams, win a majority of your games against the average ones, and try to break even against the best. The two victims of the Yankees' six-game winning streak, the Pirates and the White Sox, despite each having some strengths in the starting pitching department, fall into the category of teams that clubs with realistic aspirations of winning must beat, especially one playing as far from behind as the Yankees.

The inarguable good news is that the streak, combined with some recent choppy play on the part of the Tigers and Red Sox, has put the Yankees back in a position where the postseason isn't just a fantasy on the part of pinstriped front office types hoping to keep their jobs for another season. While the 9.5-game gap separating New York from Boston is still unlikely to be surmounted, the Yankees remain very much alive in the wild card race, where they trail the Tigers by just 5.5 games. With 101 contests left to play, including eight with Detroit (as well as three games apiece with Oakland and Seattle, the other wild card contenders in front of them), the Yankees will have ample opportunity to bid for a spot in October's circus.

If those games are to mean anything, the Yankees will have to beat up better teams than the two refugees from the Central divisions they clobbered last week. The Yankees were able to survive shaky or abbreviated outings from their starting pitchers because they were facing teams with very light offenses and bullpens that rank among the worst in baseball.

It had to be particularly alarming that their $26 million pitcher gamed the system to get the Pirates 5th starter and even then could only go 6 shaky innings. You'd assume Wang & Rivera will improve a bit, but no one else on the pitching staff is likely to be better over the course of the season than they have been thus far. And they've been mostly rancid.

Rumsfeld Numbers, AL (Jim Baker, 6/12/07, Baseball Prospectus)

Last time out, we discussed the Rumsfeld Number, the percentage of a team's plate appearances handled by players who are below replacement level. [...]

Tigers (4.2) [...]

Yankees (10.2) [...]

Mariners (14.0) [...]

Athletics (21.4) [...]

Indians (22.4) [...]

Angels (23.4), Devil Rays (25.3), Red Sox (25.8), Blue Jays (27.0) and Rangers (28.0): The median Rumsfeld Number in the American League is 25.6, so these are the teams that are closest to being typical. Among them we see an abject failure, a mediocrity, an entity on the make, and two division leaders. The Red Sox are thriving in spite of the 489 PA given to Crisp and Julio Lugo. One could look at Boston and offer the theory that if you're going to score the fourth-most runs in the league while having a league-average Rumsfeld Number, it's probably best to accumulate the majority of its mass at up-the-middle positions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2007 12:00 AM

Spring Training for Roger.

Btw: did you notice how hitters, albeit Pirate hitters, swing and miss at Roger's splitter? One thing I've noticed about Beckett from watching him pitch against the Yanks this year is that no one swings at his splitter. He tips it. Same thing last year. That's why teams sat on and crushed his fastball and why it was imperative that he use a 3rd pitch, his curve, which he has, to his credit.

In any case, any improvement from the likes of Drew and Manny will more than be offset by the drop in production from the likes of the dwarf 2nd baseman, Lowell, Tek, Youk etc -- all of whom have been much better than anyone could expect. Ditto Bye-Bye Beckett and Schilling, while Wake has already come down to earth.

And to expect the awful Coco Chanel to improve . . . hope springs eternal I guess . . . but the only thing I'd expect from him is for his offense to hold steady and his defense to fall back from unexpctedly stellar to its traditional awfulness. Frankly I'd bring up one of the cfs from Pawtucket, Murphy or the other fellow. They can't be any worse.

Meanwhile the Yanks are all hitting, and our rotation after the break will be Wang, Rocket, Andy, Hughes, and Moose.

No wonder Yankee haters like you and Marchman are getting nervous.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at June 12, 2007 9:16 AM

Gotta agree, Jim. And I was at Sunday's game - Clemen's strikeouts in the 6th inning were his best pitches of the game.

He will husband his strength, but I'm betting he'll get the job done for the Yanks this year. And along the way he might teach the young'uns a thing or two about MLB pitching.

Posted by: molon labe at June 12, 2007 10:16 AM

Sunday's game

Duh. Saturday's.

Posted by: molon labe at June 12, 2007 10:21 AM

Coco's still troubled by the finger injury that took his season last year. But his defense is so good they almost have to start him.

Posted by: oj at June 12, 2007 12:50 PM

I worry about Lowell and 'tek getting worn down. Pedoria will certainly not be hitting .400 for the rest of the year, but he'll be more than adequate for a 2nd baseman. And I'm not much expecting a dropoff from Youk - it's madness that he wasn't starting three years ago.

Manny has already begun to hit; if they get anything at all from JD Drew they'll be fine.

Posted by: Mike Earl at June 12, 2007 1:20 PM

They need to find a young catcher and make Varitek into Mirabelli. Saltalamacchia would do nicely.

But Youkilis is a fine 3b and if you started Ortiz at 1b you could get Manny out of the field. They'd be better off with Ellsbury leading off and playing LF anyway.

Posted by: oj at June 12, 2007 1:49 PM