Red Sox have a problem… how to fix something that isn’t broken


I want to share something with you. It’s something that you might not have given much time, thought, or consideration.

Josh Beckett

Jon Lester

Diasuke Matsuzaka

Clay Buchholz

Michael Bowden

Justin Masterson

I very specifically listed those six pitchers for one reason. It happens to be the foundation for the Boston rotation in 2010.

I’m not saying which five pitchers would be the rotation. Heck, I’m not even saying five from this list will be the starting rotation. But that’s the basic group. That’s without bringing back Tim Wakefield. That’s without John Smoltz turning in a stretch where he looks like John Smoltz, perhaps adds an ALCS MVP trophy to his mantle, and tells Boston management that after going 6-2 in August and September and 3-0 in the playoffs that he’d like to pitch in 2010 for short money. That’s without a trade… without a free agent signing… without looking below Pawtucket, into the minors, to see if perhaps another arm is possibly ready to make a jump.

Without doing a blessed thing, from those six names, the Red Sox have the ingredients for a better than average major league pitching rotation.

And that’s just one reason out of many why they don’t need Roy Halladay.

Now let’s check out the bullpen.

Papelbon, Saito, Masterson (hmm… his name again), Delcarmen, Okajima, Bard, Ramirez… another solid group. May not be playing lights out right now… with some explosions in recent weeks… but overall pretty solid, and ready to return most pieces in 2010.

The Red Sox are dealing with embarrassing riches when it comes to pitching. They can’t find slots for the arms they have ready, and word on the street is that down in the lower organizational rungs there are more arms preparing to stake their claims on 25-man roster slots in 2010 and the very near future.

That said… pitching isn’t perfect. Brad Penny is doing a brilliant impression of Casey Fossum. For those of you that don’t recall Fossum… and stats may not bear this out completely… but here is what it I recall of every time Fossum took the mound.

Fossum always went through the first three innings perfectly. Nine hitters faced… nine outs recorded… and he would have struck out all nine batters, but he was a team-first kind of guy and spread around some easy chances for put outs and assists. Nine up… nine down.

In the fourth inning, Fossum would set up a tee on home plate, put a golf ball on that tee, let the hitters swing away and turn the stadium into some perverse pinball machine. After two or three times through the order, the umpire would be out of golf balls, would call over the Boston manager and ask for a reliever to come in so they could switch back to baseballs, and Fossum would get pulled from the game.

Penny’s ERA the first time he goes through the batting order is 2.13. He’s pitched 38 innings by that description, given up 34 hits, and struck out 28. (Not dominant, but pretty darn good. Heck… everyone can’t be Casey Fossum.) The second time through the order… 32 and two-thirds so far… the ERA goes up to 4.19, strikeouts still an interesting ratio at 22, but hits go through the roof at 53. (Uh-oh. Maybe everyone can be Casey Fossum.) Third time for the order? 8.23 ERA. NASA scientists and MIT grad students are still working on his numbers for the miraculous times he gets to a fourth go against hitters.

(Here’s a side note. When Fossum ended up in Tampa a few years later, they couldn’t afford all the golf balls. (That tradition of teeing it up had continued in Arizona, where it really caught on and his ERA actually got worse than it had been in Boston.) Since the Rays weren’t a big winner yet, no major company wanted to supply them for free. So in order to attract the young fans, they had “if you’re 5, come run the bases” promotion whenever Fossum entered the game. And instead of pitching, Fossum just fielded the position. The batter would toss the ball into the air himself and hit it, and the 5-year old would run the bases. In 40 starts and 101 appearances for Tampa, Fossum had an ERA of about 9,342.00… or around 5.60… something like that. I forget which. Dude actually has 40 major league wins. I know not how. He also earned over $5 million from Tampa in 3-years. Some things defy description or explanation. In fairness, and conclusion, his Boston career ERA was like 4.5 or so. Anyway…)

John Smoltz hasn’t had a tremendous performance yet… but at least he’s spreading the difficult innings around, early one start and late the next. And with three home runs in one inning… he sure is creating fancy and unique problems for himself during each start.

But again… problem isn’t pitching.

If you check out the positional players and bench though, something very interesting becomes apparent. I make jokes about the pitching… and yet there aren’t many moves necessary for the staff. Maybe you sit down Penny or Smoltz and start Buchholz. Whatever. The worst problem for Boston is, the starting fielders aren’t flexible for upgrades, even as they blend together for a solid roster.

What outfielder do you sit to play the newly acquired sensation? Bay, Drew or Ellsbury?

If Lowell and Youkalis are healthy, what corner infielder doesn’t creat waves in the clubhouse?

To avoid those questions, did you get a designated hitter to replace David Ortiz?

Is the new player really an upgrade over Rocco Baldelli or Mark Kotsay? Both of those guys have done fairly well off the bench as role players.

Can you find a catcher to improve what Varitek is delivering?

And I could go on with the questions...

Youkalis delivers at first base or third base… flexibility for either situation. Lowrie doesn’t have to play just shortstop… neither does Green… so you have your utility players in place as well.

Out in New York they have lots of problems with their roster. They three designated hitters… Damon, Matsui and Posada. Four if you rest that ailing third baseman that probably shouldn’t be playing lots of games on turf.

Boston has nothing but bench guys that play three or more positions… and starters that will go any place in the batting order.

So Boston, in theory, is stuck with a very real dilemma. Because… you see… as perfectly assembled as they appear to be on paper…

They can’t score runs.

And that’s more than a July slump.

I know… I know… I’m crazy. Because if you check out the stats, they show the Red Sox are closing in on 500 runs for the season, and only score about a third of a run less per game than the Yankees. The Rays and the Angels are the only other teams in the American League with more. And the team has a huge on-base percentage too… third in the AL for that.

Ah… but they are at .263 for batting average… which is good enough for eighth in the AL and not even meeting the league average. You can look at it any number of ways I suppose… but here’s one where it gets interesting (and I think reveals a scarier truth to address)…

The New York Yankees have played in 14 games where they’ve scored 2 or fewer runs. And… thanks to the inept Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, as I write this the last three games have been 2-runs-scored victories.

Tampa has 17 such games. And… how about that… they sit roughly 4 games behind Boston and New York.

So… we should expect Boston to be around… oh, let’s say for laughs and the sake of a guess… 12 to 16 games with 2 or fewer runs scored. Yes? They score as a total for the year with these guys… and they get on base and have home run totals not too far behind these guys… and so sure, they should have very few games where they don’t score much.


Try 20. The total of games with 2 or fewer runs scored for Boston is 20.

And… let’s put this into even better focus.

Boston has played approximately 92 games. New York has played the same. Tampa has played one more than these clubs… but we’ll use 90 for all three while still considering recent events because the math works nice.

New York scores 2 or fewer in about 15% of their games.

Tampa scores that in about 19%.

And Boston… number four in runs scored for the American League… high in on-base percentage too… but below league average in batting average… scores 2 or fewer runs in 22% of their games.

(Holy crap. That’s not better or slightly-better than one-out-of-five… that’s bordering on one-out-of-four.)

Still think they need a pitcher? Still think sending the entire Pawtucket roster north of the border is the answer?

Of course not. What we’re looking at is a team that either scores or doesn’t. No middle ground. And when they don’t, they are a thing of brutality to watch.

That is why, in my mind, there is one trade and one trade only that makes sense.

Adrian Gonzalez… from the San Diego Padres.

Now… before we look at Gonzalez… a word about Victor Martinez.

Martinez would work nicely for the Red Sox in 2009. A few games at first… a few games at catcher… and a few as DH. The problem is… well… he eventually becomes a problem.

Roughly a career .300 hitter, Martinez is slightly below his career numbers… .286 for an average and .369 on-base. Still… he is posting good numbers, had 14 home runs, and would provide some alternatives thanks to his ability to play first and catch. He’s also listed at a not-too-bad 30-years old.

His contract is up at the end of the year… $5.7 million for 2009 with a club option for $7 million next season. There are slight increases to those dollars if he gets traded… but let’s face it, for his ability, those dollars aren’t bad at all.

The thing is… he’s not a full-time catcher. So he doesn’t solve the Jason Varitek dilemma. And he’s not as good defensively as the combination of Lowell and Youkalis can be (provided Lowell is healthy… which I admit is a question right now). And if you’re not ready to pull the plug on Lowell, you probably think Ortiz has a few miles left on the tires.

Martinez would be a very good acquisition for Boston. And, if they could get him to consider a 3-4 year extension, and management was willing to make a commitment to deciding the dilemma of the roster construction, there really wouldn’t be much not to like about him joining the club.

In fact… many of the same questions need to be resolved if you bring in Gonzalez. Ahh… but…

Adrian Gonzalez has an even better contract situation. $3 million this year… $4.75 million next year… and a club option for $5.6 million in 2011. (Keep in mind… these are rough figures in both cases… and both players have clauses for award bonuses.) So Gonzalez is under your control, while Martinez would require a pretty quick contract solution.

Gonzalez is much better in the field than Martinez. And, he’s 4-years younger.

So don’t go for pitching… and don’t tell me that some situational, platoon fielder will make a difference. It’s run scoring that matters, and that leaves you with two options. And only one really solves problems now… and later.


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