Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Author: Brian Phair (page 1 of 20)

The End is Near for John Farrell

Boston Globe

Another year, another #FireFarrell campaign in Red Sox nation. Manager John Farrell has probably spent more time on the hot seat in recent years than in the lazy boy, but are we close to the point when GM Dave Dombrowski will actually pull the trigger? The 22-21 Red Sox are definitely floundering at the season’s quarter-pole and can’t seem to get out of their own way, even against inferior teams like the Oakland Athletics. They pulled out a victory on Sunday to avoid a 4-game sweep at the hands of the lowly As, which likely just delays the inevitable. Although the alternatives aren’t great or obvious, Farrell is skating on a barely frozen pond going into a 6-game homestand.

Farrell’s in-game struggles have been well documented over the years, but many look past that challenge and feel he is a good clubhouse/dugout presence. I’m not sure that’s true anymore. He is losing the clubhouse and still looking lost in on-field decision making. His confrontation with Drew Pomeranz in the Red Sox dugout on Saturday was a bad look for both the player and manager, as Pomeranz just walked away in the middle of Farrell verbally going after him. This was an even worse look after the recent Manny Machado saga, in which Farrell proved he either 1. Has no baseball sense what-so-ever or 2. Has no control over his team.

Given recent struggles, it’s fair to start thinking about who might replace Farrell in the event he is fired. It’s likely that, at least on interim basis, someone from within the organization will take the helm. The most obvious choice is Gary DiSarcina. The bench coach usually gets the first look when a manager is fired (i.e. Torey Lovullo), and DiSarcina seems to be a well-liked person with 4 winning seasons as a minor league manager. He’s spent time at the MLB level as a 1st and 3rd base coach with the Angels and obviously with the Red Sox in his current capacity since November. DiSarcina won Minor League Coach of the Year from Baseball America in 2013. The Malden native has the potential to be a longer-term solution if things go well.

The other interim options include the beloved 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield, who is not likely to get a permanent manager job and 1st base coach Ruben Amaro Jr, who is a far inferior candidate in my mind. Neither excite me in any way and I believe both would be only temporary solutions to try and salvage the season.

The other option is to go outside the organization, but that becomes very difficult mid-season, especially when not many other quality managers have been handed their pink slips yet. When bringing someone in from the outside, you expect that person to be a more permanent solution going forward, making it a tougher decision in May.

If I were Dave Dombrowski, I would pull the trigger on #FireFarrell early, before the season gets out of hand and spirals. Don’t wait too long like the Bruins did this past season when firing Claude Julien. Promote DiSarcina and give him a fair shake the remainder of the season. If he succeeds, give him a deal, if not, you’re not in any worse of a position to dig into what is likely to be a more robust managerial pool in the offseason. The John Farrell experiment has run it’s course and it’s time to end the misery. Players and fans are both ready to move on.

Red Sox Defense Is a Hot Mess

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

After another 4-error effort on Monday night, I’m officially ready to call the Red Sox defense a disaster so far in 2017. On the surface the numbers are scary and it gets even worse as you dig in. Warning: Look away if you are afraid of bad defense.

The Red Sox rank last in errors in the AL (23) and 28th out of 30 teams in the MLB. Even worse, they are dead last in the MLB in fielding percentage (.975) and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. The Red Sox have committed at least 1 error in 14 of their 25 games (56%). They have committed multiple errors in 5 of their 25 games (20%) and are on a particularly bad stretch lately with at least 2 errors in 4 of their last 6 games (2 of those games with 4 errors each).

Let’s look at the culprits:

Marco Hernandez, who we all know should not be a starting 3rd baseman on a contending team, now has 5 errors in 19 games. Of all the culprits, he’s the only one with a semblance of an excuse: he’s not an everyday MLB player and is only playing thanks to the injury to Pablo Sandoval. Anyone miss Travis Shaw?

That brings me to Panda, who is 2nd on the team with 4 errors. All we heard coming into the season was how Panda was recommitted and in excellent shape. How did that work out? He has played in 16 games this season (currently on the DL) and is on pace for 35 errors (assuming he conservatively plays in 140 games), which is atrocious. He has always had an occasional error problem, finishing with 10 or more every year since 2009, but this year it seems to be the worst yet. Combined, that’s 9 errors coming from the hot corner this year.

Then we get to a pair of players with 3 errors a piece: Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland.

I expect some errors from the SS position, especially the way Xander plays it, but 3 already in just 21 games is a bad trend. His highest error total was last season when he had 12, but that was over 157 games – an error every 13 games. This year, he’s averaging an error every 7 games.

Moreland’s results are even more disturbing. He was signed to be a strong defensive first baseman (Gold Glove winner last year) who can hit occasionally. He now has 3 errors in 25 games, 1 more than he had in all of 2016 in 139 games played in the field. His career high is 5 errors in 148 games in 2013. At his current pace, he’ll finish 2017 with 17 errors.

***

Overall defensive incompetence is a disturbing trend, but it frankly hasn’t had a huge impact on their win-loss record. The Red Sox have won 7 games in which they committed at least 1 error (50% of such games) and are 6-5 in games when committing 0 errors. The breaking point is at 2 or more errors. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox are just 1-4 when committing 2+ errors.

If the team continues to struggle defensively, it’s likely the team will remain around the .500 mark and not be able to gain ground on the rest of the AL East. The Red Sox need to figure out 3rd base defense before it’s too late and the hole is too big.

How Rare is a 20+ Run Output in Baseball?

AP Photo/Nick Wass

After the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 23-5 on Sunday, my brain kicked into full stats nerd high gear. The game seemed to be approaching or breaking a handful of records including an individual achievement: Anthony Rendon going 6-6 with 3 HRs and 10 RBIs. As a fan of baseball and someone who watches an unhealthy amount, I know a team scoring 20+ points is rare, but how rare is it? Thanks to baseball-reference.com, I dug into the numbers a bit more and was surprised to see the results.

Since 1913, a team has scored more than 20 runs in a regular season game 213 times. That may seem like a lot of times, it did to me initially, but context is critically important. In a given year, there are 4,860 chances for an MLB team to score more than 20 runs. If you back that out a bit, since the MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1998, that’s 92,340 opportunities for a team to score 20+ runs (not including 2017). Just for fun, I went back to 1913, factoring in all MLB expansions and the changes in number of games per year and figured out there were approximately 350,000 opportunities for a team to score 20+ runs, making the odds to accomplish such a feat just 0.061%. The rarity of the feat is fascinating, but gets even better.

In a pitcher-dominated era of baseball, we are seeing 20+ run games happen even less frequently than before. There have been just 10 instances since the start of the 2012 season, which works out to a 0.041% chance of seeing it happen over the last 5 years. Even more rare is the 23+ run output like we saw yesterday. Since 1913, there have been 47 such occurrences, which boils out to a 0.013% chance of it happening on a given day. Since 2007, we have seen only 2 instances of a 23+ run output, yesterday’s Nationals score and a 30-run effort by the Texas Rangers in 2007 (most ever). The results over that span shrink the odds of it happening to a minuscule 0.0041% chance. If you have tickets to an MLB game next week and are hoping for 20+ runs, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

For those who couldn’t follow the numbers, know this: What happened in yesterday’s Nationals game is exceedingly rare and is growing even more rare over time. Will we see another 20+ outing this season? The odds are against it, but you never know with baseball.

Grading the Boston Red Sox: One Month In

It’s hard to believe we are already through the first month of the baseball season (almost). Throughout the year, about monthly, I’ll check in with the Red Sox and grade certain aspects of the past month or season as a whole. Every aspect of the team or the team’s play is fair game, from ownership on down to players in the minor leagues and other team officials. Read through my thoughts and then share how you are feeling about this team in the comments section or on our Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you!

John Farrell – C

Since we are starting from the beginning, a natural place to start is with the bench leader. Farrell has continued his pattern of being a meh game manager in 2017. The most glaring and perfect example of Farrell’s (lack of) game management skill came on April 20th against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sale was cruising through 8 shutout innings with just 4 hits, 13 Ks, and 102 pitches. The Red Sox were winning 1-0 at the time and Sale had struck out 2 in the 8th. Instead of letting Sale go back out for the 9th, he brought in Craig Kimbrel who immediately (2nd pitch) gave up a HR to Kendrys Morales. He recovered and the Red Sox won in 10, but it was the wrong managerial move. It was so bad that Farrell had to have a closed door chat with Sale afterword to explain his decision.

Mitch Moreland – A+

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of 2017 for me is Moreland. I figured he would be a mediocre hitter with some pop (.250 with 15 HRs) and a solid defensive first baseman, but he has far surpassed my expectations. Through 19 games played, Moreland has a .315 average with 11 doubles (1st in AL) and 2 HRs. He has an error, but has been solid defensively. I definitely don’t expect his hot start to carry on throughout the year (career .255 hitter including this year), but it seems Fenway Park is a great fit for Moreland.

Jackie Bradley Jr. – Incomplete (2 out of 10 on his topple rounding first base)

It’s been an odd start to 2017 for JBJ mostly because he has only appeared in 7 games thanks to a knee injury. The oddest part is how the injury happened. JBJ was rounding first base on a fly out when his toe got stuck, jamming his knee, and forcing him to stumble and fall like a clumsy toddler learning to walk. He was forced to the DL and didn’t come off until this past week (April 21st). Since returning he has 3 hits, including a monster HR onto Eutaw St. in Baltimore, so things are looking up.

Steven Wright – D

What the hell happened to Steven Wright? Oh yeah, he’s a knuckleballer. The most notoriously inconsistent pitch in baseball. As dominant as Wright was in the first half+ of last season, the knuckleball giveth and the knuckleball taketh away. The numbers are ugly – 8.66 ERA, 7 HRs and 17 earned runs in 4 starts with just 9 Ks – and the struggles seem to be continuing. To be fair, 2 of his starts were against the power-hitting Orioles, which is a tough match-up, but at this point it’s hard to be too optimistic.

Chris Sale – A++

With expectations through the roof for Chris Sale to be THE ace of the Red Sox staff, he pitched even better than advertised. Whenever a pitcher is being compared to Pedro Martinez after his 1st 4 starts in a Red Sox uniform, good stuff is happening. Sale has a scary low 0.91 era through 4 starts and has allowed 1 HR and just 3 earned runs while racking up a league high 42 Ks. If he had even a tiny bit of run support he could be sitting at 4-0 on the young season, but instead he has a meager 1-1 record. The runs will come at some point and then Sale will begin to pile up the Ws.

Matt Barnes – F

Overall, Barnes has pitched OK early in 2017, allowing 4 runs in 10 innings of work out of the bullpen. On it’s own, that’s probably a C-ish grade, but what dropped Barnes to an F was his throw at Manny Machado‘s head on Sunday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: throw at someone all you want, but don’t go near the head. It was a dumbass move by the young reliever and in turn, cost him a 4 game suspension (pending appeal). That pitch started a clubhouse rift with team leader Dustin Pedroia, which for a guy still trying to earn consistent relief appearances late in the game, could be harmful. Time will tell how this pans out, but at this moment, Barnes’ reputation isn’t looking great.

Pablo Sandoval – D

Hopes were high for Panda in 2017 after he arrived to Fort Myers early and in great shape. He was moving well and seemed to have a renewed attitude. Now, 17 games into the season, Panda is hitting .213 with 3 HRs (the bright spot and reason he is graded a D) with 13 Ks. He has had a few big hits late in games, but that’s about all he can boast at this point. Defensively, he’s struggling just as much, with 4 errors in the early season. At this pace, he is averaging 38+ errors for every 162 games. That’s just bad. Even worse? He now has a sprained knee and is on the DL, likely keeping him out into at least the first week of May (if not longer). Different year, same story.

Minor League Hockey Brawl

Who says there is no more fighting in hockey?

Orioles and Red Sox: The New AL East Rivalry

Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

For decades the premier rivalry in the AL East (and in the MLB) was between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. It was one of the most bitter rivalries in sports that resulted in countless fights and insane postseason matchups coming down to the final out. Over the past decade, the hate in the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry has all but disappeared and their games are no longer appointment television. Don’t worry sports fans, another AL East rivalry is just beginning to heat up.

After a reckless slide into second base by Manny Machado, tensions began to rise between the two clubs. Dustin Pedroia was sidelined by the play and as much as he tried to downplay the incident as a hard baseball play, John Farrell and his Red Sox teammates took exception. Farrell spoke to league official Joe Torre (there is always a Yankees connection) after the game insisting that a reckless slide like that one should be disciplined by the league, but his appeal got nowhere. The only other course of action for the Red Sox is to throw at Machado to send a message and close the book on the incident.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for rivalry lovers), Matt Barnes chose to retaliate with a ball to the head instead of just firing a 95 mph fastball into Machado’s ass like most would do. There are a lot of unwritten rules in baseball, but throwing at someone’s head is, and always has been, a giant no-no. Barnes has since been suspended for 4 games (pending appeal) and he deserves every game of it. I love the UConn product, but it was a stupid move. The pitch “got away from him” while trying to throw high and inside and just happened to end up behind Machado’s head. I can smell the bullshit from here.

Given how it all unfolded, I can’t imagine the bad blood is over between these two teams. The play again next week at Fenway Park and after that 4-game series, they meet another 10 times during the regular season. Both teams are projected to finish in the top 2 or 3 in the division and could very well both make the playoffs. Buck Showalter will surely continue to needle the Red Sox in press conferences and the heat will continue to be turned up as the pressure mounts later in the season.

Let the games begin…

The Case for Bruce Cassidy

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

After yet another playoff OT loss at the TD Garden on Sunday, the Boston Bruins season is over. They played 6 one-goal games against the Ottawa Senators, including 4 games ending in OT (or double OT), and committed stupid errors left and right. It’s easy to say the season was a disappointment after bowing out in the 1st round, but I completely disagree. The Bruins took the Senators to 6 games with their depleted defensive core, and showed some serious heart at times during the series. In the end, the injuries and fatigue set in, resulting in the series loss, but don’t blame interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Since taking over the helm of the Bruins from long-time bench leader Claude Julien, he has gotten the most of a non-championship quality roster. The roster he inherited was strong up top, but very weak on the bottom, which is especially true with defensemen. The talk coming into the year is the same as at the end: d-men depth was lacking; the Bs need to add a top 4 d-man. To be fair, no one would have predicted that 4 of the Bruins top 6 d-men would go down with injuries late in the season or in the playoffs, but the lack of depth left Boston struggling when it counted. Thanks to the hockey gods for Charlie McAvoy or this series would have been over even sooner.

Cassidy took this roster with all it’s deficiencies and clinched a playoff spot (which was not looking good when Julien was fired) and made the Senators earn each victory in round 1. In 28 games at the helm, Cassidy’s Bs went 18-8-1 (16-4 in the regular season), which compared to the previous 26-23-6, is a really strong showing. The team won 8 of their first 10 games under Cassidy and had a strong 6-game winning streak down the stretch to help secure the playoff spot. Cassidy made in-game changes unlike his predecessor and was not afraid to make a bold move (i.e. sit Ryan Spooner and call-up Sean Kuraly in game 5). In the end, the team was fatigued and just not good enough to move on in the playoffs.

Given an offseason to make changes and implement his system, Cassidy will have a chance to correct the sloppy mistakes (3 delay of game penalties in game 6) and hopefully add depth to both the forwards and d-men. There was a lot to like about the way the young kids played when it counted (McAvoy and Kuraly especially) and given more experience in the league, they will only get better next season.

Now remove the interim tag from his title and hand the reins over the Bruce Cassidy. He’s the present and future.

Senators Have the Bruins Number…Again

Winslow Townson/USA Today

Another game, another loss to the Ottawa Senators for the Boston Bruins. For the 4th time this season in 4 games, the Bruins took a big fat L. At least this time they went to OT and got a valuable point in the incredibly tight race to the postseason. With 1 game left in the 2017 regular season, the postseason matchups are still in question, but giving up an extra point to the Senators certainly didn’t help the Bs who came in tied with their divisional foes.

I should be happy the Bs are back in the playoffs after multiple years of bad late-season collapses, but it’s hard to get excited when they might play the Senators in round 1. I’m actually less worried about the matchup being bad for the Bs (it isn’t good), but rather the 1-3-1 life-crushing formation the Senators employ. It slows down the game, clogs up the neutral zone, and makes me want to poke my eyes out. A potential 7-game series of that style sounds brutally painful.

It’s also hard to get excited for a team where their leading scorer and assist man, Brad Marchand, is serving a 2-game suspension for being an uncontrolled idiot and spearing Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jonathan Drouin in the crotch on Tuesday. His absence isn’t the only reason the Bs lost on Thursday night, but it sure as hell didn’t help. They have 1 game remaining in the regular season against the Washington Capitals without Marchand, but the Caps have nothing to play for, having already clinched their #1 playoffs spot. Anything less than a W and it will feel like the Bs are limping into the playoffs.

I want to believe in the Bs, but am worried about them being bounced in the 1st round. Hopefully they turn it around and prove me wrong when it counts.

The Rise of Sandy Leon

 

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Last night, in the bottom of the 12th inning of a 0-0 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sandy Leon deposited a 92 mph fastball from Antonio Bastardo into the monster seats for a walk-off win. The HR was the 3rd hit of the game for Leon and his 5th hit in the 2 games this season (8 at-bats). It’s just a 2-game sample, but coupled with last year’s shocking offensive output, it makes me think that Leon might actually be a good hitter after all and a legitimate everyday catcher.

Prior to last season, Sandy Leon had 209 at-bats over 4 years and hit a whopping .187 with 1 HR and 5 doubles. He was obviously not an everyday starter and was used primarily in a defensive back-up and to spell the starting catcher with the Washington Nationals, as well as during his first year in Boston. He was seen as an insurance policy in case of injury. A depth piece that turned out to be desperately needed in 2016.

Christian Vazquez was recovering from Tommy John Surgery and began the season on the DL, so the Red Sox began the year with Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart as the catching tandem. Swihart was not good and ended up being optioned back to Pawtucket in mid-April to be converted to an outfielder and the Red Sox catching depth shrunk. Then on June 15th, both Hanigan and Swihart (called back up as an outfielder/emergency catcher) were hurt in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, opening the door for Sandy Leon. He didn’t just walk through the door, he sprinted through it.

In his first 40 at-bats, Leon had 20 hits. He had 9 extra base hits over that span (8 doubles and a HR) and was having a significant impact on the team, both behind the plate and in the batters box. His hot start slowed a little, but after 55 games in the majors, Leon was still hitting .350 and had amassed 7 HRs, 7x his career HR numbers (1 previous in 4 years), 14 doubles, and 2 triples (the first, and only 2 of his career thus far). He earned the starting role and didn’t look back, but his offense slipped a bit down the stretch, understandably. He finished with a highly respectable .310 average, a +.123 from his career numbers prior.

Leon earned the starting job for 2017 despite some critics. Was 2016 an aberration? He slumped late in the season, was that him coming back to the norm of a .200 hitter? Was he durable enough to catch a full season? Many of the questions are still a long way from being answered, but it sure as hell is encouraging to see Leon start 2017 on fire and hitting in clutch situations. Last night was the perfect example: 3 hits, the last being the most clutch hit of the ball game to win it. I can’t predict the future, but it certainly looks like Leon is more than just a back-up defensive specialist for this year’s Boston Red Sox.

Chris Sale Officially Begins Red Sox Career

AP Photo/John Raoux

Tonight at 7:10pm, Chris Sale will throw his first pitch in a game that counts for the Boston Red Sox. Sale was traded to the Red Sox this offseason with the expectation that he will be the ace of the pitching staff for years to come. The Red Sox gave up a big haul to the Chicago White Sox, including top prospects Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada, as well as other minor leaguers Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz. The expectations are high, but not unwarranted.

Early in this season, I’ll do a short player profile for all the new additions on the roster. Since Sale is starting tonight, he’s the perfect place to start.

Player Profile

Name: Christopher “The Condor” Sale

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

Height/Weight: 6’6″, 180lbs

Born: 3/30/1989 in Lakeland, FL

Drafted: Chicago White Sox in 2010 1st round (was drafted by the Rockies in the 21st round of the 2007 draft, but decided to go to college)

College: Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL

MLB Debut: 8/6/2010 with the White Sox

Stats:

Sale joins the Red Sox with a career 3.00 ERA, 1,244 Ks and a 74-50 record in 7 big-league seasons, along with 5 consecutive All-Star selections and a top 6 finish in the AL Cy Young voting for 5 consecutive years. Sale has 14 complete games and 2 shutouts on his resume, including 6 complete games and 1 shutout for the White Sox last season. Sale’s K to BB ratio is the best in baseball among active pitchers (4.785) and has the 2nd best active adjusted ERA+ (135), behind only Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

*All biographical information is from www.baseball-reference.com.

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