CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday M... (04/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (04/16)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (04/30)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/23)

April 23, 2012

Out of Left Field

Designing a Nervous Breakdown

by Matthew Kory

The Red Sox this year were expected to compete with the Yankees and the rest of the American League. They have instead imploded as much as any team can within the constraints of 14 games. The starting pitching has been monkey-with-irritable-bowel-syndrome putrid, the manager’s in-game decisions haven’t backfired so much as they’ve taken their weapons and joined the other side, and to see the relief work as remotely viable one must hearken back to a time before people could read and write and therefore did not know what “remotely viable” means. But the bench has been decent. So there’s that.

While they don’t have the worst record in baseball—that belongs to the Royals—they are third. That would have shocked the projection systems. Our own PECOTA had the Red Sox at 89 wins. My projection system, IMADETHISUP, had the Red Sox winning 120 games. Instead, the team is on a 46-win pace. The difference between PECOTA and the Red Sox’ actual pace is equivalent to the difference between last year’s playoff Rays and the 1962 Mets.

Saturday’s disaster against the Yankees was the cherry on top of this poop sundae. Facing professional placeholder Freddy Garcia and his fearsome 85-mph fastball, the Red Sox picked up a few runs here and a few more there and, hey, before you knew it they were up 9-0. Red Sox starter Felix Doubront didn’t allow a run until Mark Teixeira’s sixth-inning, two-out solo homer. Having thrown 99 pitches and holding an eight-run lead, manager Bobby Valentine removed the young lefty Doubront. It was a perfectly reasonable move that shouldn’t need defending. After all, blowing that lead would mean giving up nine runs over three innings, which would amount to an ERA of 27.00. Ha ha! That would be ridiculous.

It would be. What happened next would make a bad sequel to Fever Pitch. Over the next two innings, six Red Sox pitchers—two failed to record even a single out—were responsible for this:

  • 14 runs allowed (13 earned)
  • 12 hits (six for extra bases)
  • Five walks (two intentional)
  • A 2.31 increase in the team’s bullpen ERA

All this took place minutes after Philip Humber, a waiver-wire pickup by the Chicago White Sox, was throwing the 21st perfect game in history. That’s a bit like a beautiful girl you could have dated marrying a prince while you get electrocuted trying to update your Match.com profile. And while you’re lying on the floor, twitching, your dog pees on you.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Matt. We’re 14 games into the season. Fourteen! That’s 8.6 percent of the season. That means there is 91.4 percent remaining. So, what the heck are you talking about?

Fair point, italicized voice. Much of the season remains and for all my whiny drama (and that of many, many others) the Red Sox are only 4 1/2 games out of first place. At this time last year the Diamondbacks were 4 1/2 games behind Colorado, the Tigers were 3 1/2 behind the Indians, and the Rays and Red Sox were 3 and 3 1/2 behind the Yankees, respectively. All those teams made the playoffs, with the exception of the Red Sox, who missed it by a single two-strike pitch to Nolan Reimold. This deficit isn’t a death sentence. It isn’t close.

But the deficit isn’t really the problem so much as the way the deficit has been achieved. For starters, the Red Sox have a 6.68 ERA. During last September’s 7-20 collapse that ultimately cost them a spot in the playoffs, the Red Sox had a 5.84 ERA. Somehow removing John Lackey’s historically atrocious numbers; Daisuke Matsuzaka’s pre-surgery batting-practice sessions; the 23 games started by Tim Wakefield, who had the good grace to retire; and Andrew Miller, who hasn’t had the decency to follow Wakefield’s lead, the Red Sox still get almost a run worse?

The Red Sox had three guys on their major-league roster with ERAs below 3.00 and they just traded one of them. The good news is that every pitcher on the roster has an ERA below 49, since Mark Melancon and his 49.50 ERA were sent down to Triple-A. Here is his Triple-A picture:

Yes, the former ace set-up man in the Red Sox bullpen is shown (on milb.com) wearing a minor-league Yankees uniform. Nice try, Red Sox, but everybody knows he's your guy now.

Leaving the pitching behind (much like the entire New England region would no doubt love to do), the team’s offense has been fine, if not up to last year’s league-best standard. Ah, but injuries. Jacoby Ellsbury—whose training regimen of grabbing black cats and sprinting under ladders may have to be rethought—subluxed his shoulder, which I believe means a 1950’s-era vacuum cleaner fell on him.

It’s entirely debatable whether or not Ellsbury was capable of replicating his magnificent 2011 season, but it isn’t debatable whether Ellsbury would be better than his replacement, Jason Repko, or his replacement’s replacement, the 34-year-old Marlon Byrd, who is hitting .070. I’d give you more advanced stats but, well, .070. Peachy.

The good news is Ellsbury probably doesn’t need surgery, but when he was injured two seasons ago they said the same thing and he effectively missed the whole season.

You see that last sentence? That is the Red Sox fan in me talking. It slips out every now and again, like a cold you just can’t seem to beat. I’m a man of reason, of logic, of numbers. Oh sure, I don’t understand any of them, but I trust in those who do*. All of last September, when the Red Sox were firmly in control of their fate but losing right and left, I stopped people on the street to tell them the Red Sox were going to the playoffs. All those talk-radio nincompoops were just being irrational and silly. Calm down, I said. Teams simply don’t blow leads this big in this short period of time. Yet as it turned out, I was wrong and the bleating hordes were right. That’ll teach me to grab perfect strangers on the street by the shoulders and shake them while yelling, “Calm down, nincompoop!”

* This is known as the Church of Colin Wyers. “Is this heaven?” “It’s Iowa.” “So yes then?”

Not only did Boston blow it, they blew it with such flair, such panache as to make it as difficult and painful for everyone involved as they could. From afar it was probably impressive. Maybe even funny. From close in, it made you want to gouge your eyes out with forks. 

These are a team, an organization, and a fanbase that expect to win. The loveable (if they ever were) losers for almost nine decades are gone, replaced by the sense of entitlement that winning creates. Yet over the past two months of baseball, stretching into last year, the Red Sox have won 11 of 41 games. The hysteria from New England could restart the Salem witch trials.

Whether or not Ellsbury ever sees the field this year, the true talent level on this team is well above where the Red Sox have played to this point. Over the next three weeks, Boston plays the Twins, the White Sox, the A’s, the Orioles, the Royals, the Indians, and the Mariners. That’s a schedule for a turnaround if ever one existed.

Ellsbury should return in a few months, Matsuzaka may be back even sooner, and shortly thereafter the bullpen should get Andrew Bailey back. You know, until he gets hurt again. There is hope. There should be hope. But if things continue as they have been, I have a suggestion for the pitching staff that should fix everything: keep throwing to first base. The earth will crash into the sun eventually.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ams5661

This article's title isn't a reference to the Anniversary album of the same name, is it?

Apr 23, 2012 03:43 AM
rating: 1
 
jrbdmb

BP, thank you once again for your insightful, statistical-driven analysis. :)

Apr 23, 2012 07:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

"Our own PECOTA had the Red Sox at 89 wins. My projection system, IMADETHISUP, had the Red Sox winning 120 games."

I almost choked on the granola bar I was eating - fantastic delivery! You slip some awesome lines in there, Matt.

Apr 23, 2012 08:02 AM
rating: 2
 
DavidHNix

So .... have they already quit on Valentine, or are they still busy quitting on Francona?

Apr 23, 2012 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I don't think anyone has quit. They may not like the manager but quitting is a very strong word and I don't think we've seen anything to support it.

Apr 23, 2012 15:34 PM
 
Lou Doench

I never really believed in this version of the Red Sox being contenders. Especially in the AL East. They just have too many old and injury prone players. They essentially brought back the same team on the field that limped into september last year and crossed their fingers that things would be better this time.

Apr 23, 2012 09:10 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

If by "limped into September" you mean "was in first place at the start of September" then I agree.

The Red Sox are an old team, but no older than the Yankees. Injuries have been a reoccurring problem for them to be sure, but outside of some guys who are injury prone (Youkilis mostly) they've been of the freak variety and, I don't believe, particularly predictable.

Apr 23, 2012 09:56 AM
 
steve.k

I gotta think there's some karma involved here. Hiring Bobby V over the new GM's objections has to play into this as well. A pre-season salary dump. The Saturday loss - simply amazing.

Apr 23, 2012 09:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I don't believe in baseball karma.

I think it's easy to deduce that Valentine wasn't Ben Cherington's first choice, but that doesn't mean he didn't fully endorse the hire when it was made.

Trading Scutaro was odd. I think they probably had something else going on that fell through otherwise it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. They did save a good amount of salary under the luxury tax though ($8 million) and that alone could have been the reason behind the deal.

Apr 23, 2012 10:01 AM
 
CalledStrike3

I literally have tears from laughter running down my face .... I really enjoy your stuff Matthew.

Bobby did have Junichi Tawazawa warming up saturday to come in and close the game .... until Aceves blew the hold/save in the 8th ... another sign of desperation if BVal goes to a Japanese closer.

If The Red Sox could hire a secondary bench coach to inform Bobby what side of the plate the upcoming hitter presides from - then Bobby would have a better chance of getting the correct matchups instead of letting lefty's pitch to Mike Napoli with men on base in a high leverage situation for example.

At least Fenway Pawk did not get robbed the Monday morning after the Red Sox/Yankees series....the Florist must have been busy.

Apr 23, 2012 12:05 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the piece.

Apr 23, 2012 13:01 PM
 
dlomanto

Please write one of these a week (at least)!

Apr 23, 2012 17:04 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Ha ha! I do!

Apr 23, 2012 21:13 PM
 
mcarlin

Ha! That was cathartic in the same way that Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert help me to go to sleep every night with a chuckle. Bravo Mr. Kory. This story alone is worth my subscription dues.

Last year, I was with you Matt- erroneously assuring Sox fatalists all would be well. I thought I had graduated from their ranks in 04, but I'm slowly losing my rationality. Things just don't make sense to me anymore.

Apr 23, 2012 21:01 PM
rating: 2
 
Schere

It's like financial advice...you're right almost all the time, and then BAM! 2008 happens, and all the bug-eyed shit-smeared lunatics are right for the first time in your life...and then you have to listen to them for another two decades.

Apr 24, 2012 09:15 AM
rating: 0
 
McLovins

Yes excellent article, but I think you missed one key element to this year's bullpen woes story; let's call it the curse of Ramiro Mendoza. Well, it's really the curse of ex-yankee relief pitchers, but that doesn't sound as good. Any time something goes horribly wrong with the Red Sox it inexorably has to be linked with the Yankees in some way. I guess they're the Ying and the Yang of baseball. Anyway, I seem to recall that much hewing and crying occurred after the Red Sox signed Ramiro Mendoza as a free agent in 2002, and of course his performance suddenly took a turn for the worse.
Ramiro Mendoza WAR
1996 Yankees 1.2
1997 Yankees 1.8
1998 Yankees 2.1
1999 Yankees 1.9
2000 Yankees 0.5
2001 Yankees 1.7
2002 Yankees 1.6
2003 Red Sox 0.2
2004 Red Sox 0.2
Maybe my memory is failing me as shockingly this was a decade ago, but I even seem to recall hearing some suggestions that R.M. was nothing more than a Yankee plant. A spy even designed to subvert the rising tide of the Red Sox success. Of course this is silly talk and Mendoza even went back to pitch for the Yankees in 2005 and produced a -0.1 WAR, but never let silly talk get in the way of a good story, er. rivalry. Thus, I postulate to you that the real story behind this year's bullpen woes for the Red Sox is non-other than the curse of Ramiro Mendoza. Management never should have counted on ex-yankee relievers to take care of high leverage late inning outs. Those guys have allowed 19 of the 42 runs charged to the bullpen. That's 45%! Don't try and counter with facts like Aceves's line from 2011. That was probably just a set up to get management to think it was ok to bring in Melancon! You have to be paranoid if you want to be a member of the Nation, and right now there shouldn't be any ex-yankee relievers allowed in the Boston bullpen. Thanks for the help last year Aceves, but this year you can take a seat, and that Melon guy can just roll around in Pawtucket from now on. Peace.

Apr 24, 2012 09:33 AM
rating: 1
 
rwinter

this column=my thoughts exactly

Apr 24, 2012 13:25 PM
rating: 0
 
AWBenkert

After throwing 99 pitches, I'm surprised Valentine had the energy to make it to the mound to take the pitcher out.

Oct 04, 2012 06:01 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday M... (04/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (04/16)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (04/30)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/23)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Avoid: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Infographic: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 175 ...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Diamondbacks Third Baseman is...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Bad Bullpen Teams ...
Prospectus Feature: A.J. Preller's Offseason...
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Eyes of March

MORE FROM APRIL 23, 2012
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Cautiously Sizing Up April S...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Theo Flips Boston The ...
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Keep Calm and Carry...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Humber's Change in Process
Premium Article Collateral Damage Daily: Monday, April 23
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, April 23
What You Need to Know: Monday, April 23

MORE BY MATTHEW KORY
2012-04-26 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Thursday, April 26
2012-04-25 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Wednesday, April 25...
2012-04-24 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Tuesday, April 24
2012-04-23 - Out of Left Field: Designing a Nervous Break...
2012-04-23 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, April 23
2012-04-20 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 20
2012-04-19 - Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Thursday, April 19
More...

MORE OUT OF LEFT FIELD
2012-05-14 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: On Hitting .400
2012-05-07 - Out of Left Field: Scouting the Scout
2012-04-30 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The Walking Dead
2012-04-23 - Out of Left Field: Designing a Nervous Break...
2012-04-16 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The Worst Baseball Discus...
2012-04-09 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: How to Stop a Baseball Ga...
2012-04-02 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Predictions That, God Hel...
More...