- Hanging Around: Despite some injuries, the Red Sox pitching staff has been quite impressive. As Joe Sheehan points out Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama, in-season replacements for the injured David Wells and Curt Schilling, have held down the fort quite nicely. The Red Sox currently rank sixth in the AL in ERA, second in striekout-to-walk ratio, and fourth in strikeout rate.
Wade Miller was solid in his first outing back in the big leagues and will provide a major boost to the pitching staff until Wells and Schilling come off the DL. A nice side benefit of letting Gonzalez and Halama eat up a few starts is that it lessens the impact of the long season on Schilling and Wells.
- Low Risk, High Reward: Matt Mantei is looking like a good bargain in the early going. An injury-laden tenure with the Diamondbacks behind him, Mantei signed an incentive-laden deal with the Sox in the offseason. In 14 appearances, Mantei is sporting a respectable 3.97 RA while striking out a batter in an inning. The nine walks are a bit of a concern, but the fact that Mantei has gotten through five weeks unscathed is pretty impressive. The Sox have to be encouraged by his continued availability as well the fact that Mantei’s fastball is sitting in the low 90s and has touched 95 mph.
Mantei’s good work has been needed, largely because to the slow starts of Keith Foulke (6.19 RA) and Alan Embree (5.28 RA). Meanwhile, the decision to re-sign southpaw Mike Myerslooks good; lefties are 1-for-12 against the sidearming specialist. Also helping to overcome the struggles of Embree and Foulke is Mike Timlin (1.15 RA in 15 appearances). This bullpen is solid from top to bottom and has the ability to get guys out from both sides of the plate.
- Slow Starts? The Red Sox’ infield looks like it’s gotten off to a collective slow start:
Player AVG OBP SLG Edgar Renteria .237 .298 .342 Mark Bellhorn .233 .343 .356 Bill Mueller .241 .343 .310 Kevin Millar .257 .370 .336
If you judge a slow start by batting average these players are all in the dumps, but look a little closer. With the exception of Edgar Renteria, the other three have OBPs that place them comfortably inside the top 40 in the AL. Sure the slugging percentages are ugly, but the team still ranks fourth in the AL in that category. While many of the mainstream pundits will say that Renteria is adjusting to a new league, it is more likely that these four are simply hitting into some bad luck and that they will bounce back. In the case of Kevin Millar, the Sox signed John Olerud to a minor-league deal just in case Millar doesn’t snap out or David Ortiz gets hurt.
With four of their starters “slumping” the Red Sox have managed to rank fourth in the AL in runs scored, fourth in batting average, first in OBP and fourth in slugging. When you look at the whole team, the only weakness is defense, where they rank next to last in the American League in Defensive Efficiency. The worst defender on the team by Fielding Runs Above Average is Renteria at -4. If Foulke and Embree recover as expected and these bats start to come to life, there is little reason to think the Sox won’t be in first place by the end of June. I mean, the Orioles can’t really keep it up, can they?
- Bombs Away: In case you haven’t noticed, the Reds pitching is bad, very bad. Last Wednesday, they showed the world how bad they were when they blew a six-run lead in the ninth versus the Cardinals on national TV. Here is a look at where the Redlegs rank in some key pitching categories:
Stat Rate Rank K/BB 1.70 23 K/9 5.91 19 BAA .297 30 OPSA .877 30 ERA 5.71 28 HR 50 1
Yikes! Not much to like here. What’s even more disturbing is the poor performances of some of the guys expected to anchor the rotation. Eric Milton has been as bad as expected, sporting an RA of 6.06 and giving up a home run every three innings. In fact, Milton has only gone one start without giving up a homer and he’s given up multiple home runs in four of his seven starts. While it is early, Milton is on pace to give up 70 home runs this season, which would obliterate Bert Blyleven‘s record of 50, set in 1986.
Paul Wilson is off to a slow start. “Closer” Danny Graves has been downright terrible, walking twice as many batters as he has struck out. Graves’ hold on the closer spot makes little sense; his hold on a major-league roster spot seems curious at best. After posting VORPs of -1.1 and 4.3 the last two seasons, Graves needs to prove that he can get big league hitters out. He’s making $6.25 million this season and he gets an extra half million if he’s traded; the Reds aren’t about to eat any of his contract.
The scariest thing is that those three pitchers are the three highest-paid pitchers on the team. The fourth highest-paid pitcher on the team is Ramon Ortiz, who has already been on the DL and has gotten shelled in his three starts and has an RA of 7.30. There is no doubt that the new park in Cincinnati is a tough place to pitch, but that does not excuse the fact that Reds management is paying more than 18 million dollars to four pitchers who have little chance of ever matching their prime years again. Not that any of these guys’ primes were really that good.
Cincinnati’s offense isn’t holding up their end of the bargain either. The Reds rank 18th in runs and 14th in OPS. While the slow start of Ken Griffey Jr. has been blamed by most, this criticism seems a bit harsh considering how little he’s been on the field in the last five years. What is really killing the Reds is the .225/.319/.275 start of D’Angelo Jimenez and the similarly dreary start (.220/.309/.439) by Austin Kearns. Meanwhile, two players who are off to great starts remain entrenched in role-playing positions. Wily Mo Pena just went on the disabled list, but he was hitting .313/.353/.813 with a home run every eight at-bats before he tweaked his quad. That slugging percentage would rank him first in the league if he qualified; it’s more than 40 points higher than National League Player of the Month Derrek Lee.
The other player stuck is Ryan Freel. Many a BP author has lobbied for more playing time for Freel but to little avail. After a .277/.375/.368 season, Freel is raking to the tune of .333/.459/.450, walking more than he’s striking out and playing five different positions. While Freel’s value as a super-utility guy is unquestionable, the Reds need to find a way to get Freel in the lineup everyday.
- From Hell’s Bells to Baseball Immortality? On Saturday, Trevor Hoffman reached 400 career saves, becoming just the third player in MLB history to do so. Hoffman, who will turn 38 in October, ranks behind Lee Smith (478 saves) and John Franco (424 saves) on the all-time list.
Does reaching the 400-save milestone give him an automatic bid to the Hall of Fame. There seems to be no magic saves plateau that assures a ticket to Cooperstown. Thus, we can look to Jay Jaffe, who addressed this issue and sets up a way to evaluate relievers’ Hall of Fame credentials. For those of you new to JAWS, Jaffe’s metric measures candidates against replacement level in the era they played. This measurement is done by Wins Above Replacement, adjusted for all time: WARP3. Jaffe also uses a peak value in which he tabulates the best five-year span for each player. The JAWS number is defined as: [(Career WARP + Peak WARP)/2]. Jaffe set the JAWS for relievers standard at 70% of (94.5/43.5/69.2) which is the standard set for starting pitchers. This sets the JAWS bar at 48.4 for relievers. Using WARP3 and JAWS lets take a look at some of the guys that Hoffman will eventually be compared to:
Player WARP PEAK JAWS Hoffman 62.3 34.1 48.2 Rivera 67.7 38.2 53.0 Franco 79.7 29.4 54.6 Gossage 84.4 35.0 59.7 Smith 80.0 32.6 56.3 Sutter 57.0 32.1 44.6
Of the retired guys, Gossage and Sutter appear to be on the right track. Gossage got 55.23% of the vote in 2005, up 15% from 2004. Sutter’s vote totals have been climbing steadily, up to 59.49% in ’05. Smith has been eligible for three years and has been hovering around 40%. While none of these three are locks, it appears that some voters are starting to adjust their votes based on the changes in the way the game is played. Of those still playing, only Mariano Rivera is a lock because he is one of the few relievers that can lay claim to being one of the truly dominant pitchers of his era. Throw in a World Series MVP (1999) and an ALCS MVP (2003) and you have the makings of a Hall of Famer (playing in New York doesn’t hurt). Franco should be praised for his longevity (he has pitched in more games than anyone in history) but he was never truly a dominant pitcher.
Hoffman is a borderline case, so unless the Hall suddenly opens the floodgates for relievers it seems unlikely that he will be inducted. It would be hard to choose him over Gossage, Smith, Sutter or Rivera. Also hurting his candidacy is the fact that he hasn’t won any flashy awards or been on any great teams. Hoffman is making $6 million in the last year of his contract, and it remains to be seen if he will remain a Padre beyond 2005. The market will have a lot to say on whether or not he remains a Padre. If MLB owners go crazy next offseason like they did last offseason, it is unlikely that Hoffman will retire a Padre. Hoffman would make it a lot tougher on voters if he could cobble together a few more 30+ save seasons to make a run at Smith’s record.