February 7, 2013
Out of Left Field
Shorting the Red Sox
One of the difficult parts about fantasy baseball is dealing with perception. When a player hits a home run, it feels like that’s what they’ll always do. Put another way, do you take a guy who just homered out of your lineup? No, of course not. He just homered. Therefore he’ll continue to homer. That’s a good way to lose. I know because that’s what I do best in fantasy sports. The way to do it, so I’ve been told, is ignore that homer. Let your understanding of the player’s value over the course of the season dictate your decisions. A single event, in this case the homer, shouldn’t enter into it. Yet it always does and I always pay the price.
This is also true of real baseball, especially preseason predictions. With Spring Training around the corner, we’re getting into prediction season. Read the predictions and look at how closely many of them mirror last year’s standings. Most years they’ll look pretty similar to what happened the previous season. This year might be a bit of an exception because of the seasons had by the Orioles and, to a lesser extent, the A’s. To pick a better example, we know the Reds just won the NL Central. It just happened. We saw it and everything. So it’s easy to pick them to win again, even if a closer inspection reveals that maybe things aren’t quite as they were this time a year ago.
So it is with the Boston Red Sox, who, when last we saw them, were buried in last place. But it’s not only last year’s finish that is creating this perception. A year ago the Red Sox were coming off one of the worst meltdowns to close a season that a team can have. Sept. 1, 2011 dawned with Boston in first place by a half game over the Yankees. From then on the Red Sox went 7-20. Their starters posted a helpful 7.08 ERA that month. They topped it all off by blowing the last game of the season in the bottom of the ninth while the Rays simultaneously beat the Yankees in equally spectacular fashion to snatch the Wild Card.
The Red Sox made prominent changes during that offseason, but it’s fair to say, specifics aside, they didn’t work. While the 2011 Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball until September, the 2012 variety couldn’t make that claim, or indeed anything close. They muddled along while new manager Bobby Valentine tried desperately to ignite a stick or two of dynamite in the clubhouse. Eventually it become clear that the 2012 Red Sox weren’t working and GM Ben Cherington signaled change was coming by dealing stars Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for prospects and salary relief in late August.
Those events—the end to 2011 and the entirety of 2012—and the fact that they happened one after the other created the perception that the Red Sox as an organization are a last-place mess. The star players failed to play like stars, the big-name manager failed to manage, and the front office couldn’t put a glass of red wine down without spilling half of it on the white table cloth. Right or wrong, the perception has been that the players, manager, and front office are varying levels of incompetent, and like my fantasy baseball team, that perception is carrying onward whether it’s correct or not.