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.

Tag: jackie bradley jr

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.

What to Watch For During Spring Training

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Let me begin by saying I love spring training. Baseball is my first love, so any sign that the season is around the corner gets me giddy. There is just one problem… It’s too damn long. Pitchers and catchers reported mid-February and won’t play any meaningful baseball until April 2nd on opening day. That’s 6+ weeks of drills and meaningless baseball games, which can be hard for the casual fan to follow. An added challenge for most is that many games are not on TV  or are afternoon games during the week.

Over the years I have developed a system for knowing what to look for (and not look for) during spring training games. Hopefully it helps you decipher what’s really important this time of year.

What to Watch For (and Ignore)

Watch for Pitcher Ramp-Up, Ignore Pitcher Stat Lines

The most reasonable explanation for a long spring training is the need for a slow build-up of stamina for starting pitchers (and even some relievers). In order to reduce injury risk, most pitchers slowly add workload throughout the month of games in order to be ready for opening day. Watch for starters to begin with an inning or two, around 20-30 pitches initially, then slowly add pitches and innings leading to a more normal-looking start in late March.

During that span, ignore pitcher stat lines. There is nothing more frustrating for me than to read an alarmist article about a starter giving up 4 runs in an inning in March. Every pitcher is unique and their throwing schedules vary greatly. Some pitchers will spend an outing just working on their fastball with very few (or no) secondary pitches. Some will work on their curveball almost exclusively at times to try and improve that particular pitch. ERA and record mean very little in the spring, unless you have a pitcher with a fragile level of confidence (a whole other conversation).

Watch for Quality At-Bats, Ignore Batting Averages

Another mistake made in the spring is looking at player batting averages and projecting regular season success based on them. There are sometimes the case of a young player getting hot in the spring and carrying it over into the season, and that shouldn’t be fully ignored, but the majority of the time it just doesn’t matter. If you are watching a spring game, take a look at how the player approaches an at-bat, how many pitches they see, how fluid and comfortable they look in the batters box. Those things can be much subtle, but also more telling than average.

Let’s take the 2016 Red Sox spring training as an example. David Ortiz played in 18 games, had 45 at-bats, and hit .178 with 2 doubles, 1 HR, and 10 Ks. In the first month of the regular season, Ortiz hit .321 with 5 HRs, 11 doubles, and 14 Ks (22 games, 78 at-bats). Ortiz came right out of the gate with a HR and double on opening day and played well in April, even though his spring was bad. Zero correlation in his case. It’s an extreme example, but proves the point.

Watch for Young Prospects, Ignore Records

After spending time telling you to ignore batting averages, I’m going to slightly modify my stance here in reference to young prospects. Spring is the best time to see young players get reps and try to impress their organization honchos. This may be the only time most fans are able to watch the young guns perform, so take advantage. Sometimes a strong spring for a young player will result in a longer look for a minor league promotion or even a future big-league roster spot. Just ask Jackie Bradley Jr. or Travis Shaw if spring can be the difference in making the MLB roster or not (hint: it did for both of them).

The absolute #1 thing to ignore in the spring is a win/loss record. It is by far the most meaningless stat, because players are slotted in prior to each game to give everyone appropriate playing time. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 10 or down 10, the manager has a plan for player usage and usually follows it closely. On top of that, it is rare that a full regular season lineup is all starting on the same day with an MLB caliber starter on the mound. It will be even less likely this year with the World Baseball Classic happening in conjunction with spring training games. For example, Xander Bogaerts left to play for team Netherlands on 2/28 and won’t play in another game for the Red Sox until at least mid-to-late March, and perhaps not again until the regular season. If you are hoping to see the Red Sox opening day lineup anytime soon, you will be disappointed.

Crazy Series Finale Grows Red Sox AL East Lead

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

As a football fan it’s easy to get caught up in the early season rush and in many years past, with the Red Sox virtually eliminated by now, the attention shift was easy. Not this year. This weekend was even more important for the Red Sox than the Patriots (and college football) given the outrageously close playoff race in the AL. Entering the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox were 1 game ahead of the Jays in the standings, 2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and just 4 games ahead of the surging New York Yankees. After Sunday’s crazy, but huge 11-8 victory over the Jays, the Red Sox have built a 2 game lead in the AL East, their largest division lead since May 31st (3 games ahead). With 20 games to go, it’s still a 4-way divisional race.

Sunday’s finale was a must win for both the Jays and the Red Sox. The Jays were 1 game back of the Red Sox and a W would have tied them atop the league. The game played like each team was desperate, once one team scored, the other would come back with a rally of their own. The game was 1-1 after 1, then Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a 3-run bomb in the 2nd inning to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead. The bottom of the 3rd was Toronto’s chance to respond, getting 5 runs off of Clay Buchholz (how many times have I typed that line?) to take a 6-4 lead. The Red Sox tied it up in the top of the 4th, only to lose the lead again in the bottom of the inning on Edwin Encarnacion‘s 2nd HR of the game.

After grabbing a run back in the 5th inning, Brock Holt inexplicably tried to steal home with 2 outs in a 1 run game and gets caught leaving the game 8-7. File that in the head-scratcher category. Never fear Red Sox fans, David Ortiz is here for the rescue, hitting a 3-run HR to give the Red Sox the lead for good. They tacked on 1 more in the 7th to make it an incredibly important 11-8 wild win. That was a precursor to a day of close, but important wins in New England!

According to the ESPN calculation, the Red Sox now have an 93.4% chance of making the playoffs, which was hard to imagine a few weeks ago. The Jays have dropped to 74.5%, the Orioles at 56.7% and the Yankees still hanging in at 13.5%. All 4 teams are still within 4 games of the division lead and the Jays and Orioles are currently 2 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and Yankees for the 2 wild card spots. There is a real chance 3 AL East teams make the postseason in 2016, but with dozens of divisional games remaining, who knows.

Benintendi Fever Reaches the Big Leagues

Joel Page/Portland Press Herald

Joel Page/Portland Press Herald

Less than a day after being the subject of many trade talks, Red Sox top prospect Andrew Benintendi is making the big jump from AA Portland to the majors, skipping AAA Pawtucket. The Red Sox hope he will provide some stability in left field once he gets comfortable, which if his short history is any indicator, should take about 2-3 weeks. Is Benintendi ready for the big time? It certainly feels that way.

He began the season as a 21-year old in advanced A Salem and in 34 games, hit .341 and drove in 32 runs while playing a strong outfield defense. After such success in A, Benintendi made the toughest jump in the minor leagues from A to AA. In his 63 games at AA Portland he hit .295 with 8 HRs and drove in 44 runs. He had 70 hits over that span and has continued to be an above average defender, spending time in left field in anticipation of this move. It did take him a few weeks to adjust to AA pitching, but after the adjustment, he has been crushing it.

Benintendi likely won’t play until Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners, but the lefty will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself, because honestly, why else would you call him up? He’s not going to play once a week, he should get at least a split of the left field playing time, if not majority, and perhaps get a start in center or right to spell Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts as well. He still has plenty of developing to do, but now he can do it alongside 2 other young superstars in the making. I know it’s jumping ahead, but how unbelievable could the Red Sox outfield be if Benintendi lives up to expectations? Maybe the best ever.

An interesting point of trivia: The last player to make the jump to the major leagues by skipping AAA…Jackie Bradley Jr.

Most Important Win of the Season for the Red Sox

pedroia bogaerts celebrate

For most fans, Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would be the first game of the series they could watch start to finish. With the Red Sox traveling on the west coast, the first 3 games of the series began at either 9 or 10 pm on the east coast, resulting in games ending just too late. The Sunday 4pm start time was a treat, but most of the game wasn’t. Missed opportunities (8 left on base) and a lack of timely hitting put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole going into the bottom of the 9th, a situation the team has not been able to overcome all year…until yesterday.

With their back firmly against the wall and a bad loss staring them in the face, the Red Sox showed some life for the first time in a while. After a Jackie Bradley Jr. walk and an Aaron Hill single, the Red Sox had something going. Then, the collective hearts sank when Ryan Hanigan and Brock Holt struck out back to back. It was up to Mookie Betts, who with 2 outs in the 9th, down 3 runs, finally put the Red Sox on the board with a line-drive base hit into right field. It was then all on the shoulders of Dustin Pedroia, who had a sombrero to that point in the game (3 Ks). With one swing of the bat, the Red Sox were lifted off the mat and brought back to life. A 417 ft HR to center field gave the Red Sox their first lead of the game and it would stick for a huge W.

That HR is the biggest hit of the 2016 season, hands down. If Pedroia makes the final out, the Red Sox fall to .500 on the road this season, 2.5 games back in 3rd place in the AL East and walk away losing 3 out of 4 against the Angels. Instead, they are 23-21 on the road, are just 1.5 games back in the division and have a thrilling series split to carry them to Seattle. The win prevents them from losing 6 of their last 7 (although losing 5 of their last 7 isn’t good, it’s better) and hopefully gives them some momentum moving forward and into Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Does that hit push Dave Dombrowski to make a big move on Monday and really believe in this team? I don’t know, but I promise you it didn’t hurt.

Red Sox Offense on Historic Pace

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Most of the attention on this year’s Red Sox team has been around the struggles associated with the pitching staff and for good reason. There are many holes in the pitching staff and if the Red Sox want to contend this year, they need to improve on the mound, but what is being overlooked in 2016 is the Red Sox offense. As a team, the Red Sox are on pace to have one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise.

Through 84 games, the Red Sox offense leads the MLB in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. They are the best offensive team in baseball by far, leading in most offensive categories by a fairly wide margin. Seven members of the Red Sox starting lineup are hitting over .285 (Sandy Leon .477, David Ortiz .337, Xander Bogaerts .332, Dustin Pedroia .305, Mookie Betts .299, Jackie Bradley Jr. .293, and Hanley Ramirez .287)  and six players have 48 or more RBI with 3 games left before the all-star break (David Ortiz 69, Mookie Betts 58, Jackie Bradley Jr. 54, Xander Bogaerts 52, Travis Shaw 48, and Hanley Ramirez 48. Since the team has been so offensively dominant, I wanted to see historically where they would be if the pace continued in the 2nd half of the season.

Boston Red Sox All-Time Rankings for 2016 team (116 years)
(if current pace continues)

3rd best in batting average (.292)

2nd in slugging percentage (.476)

1st in doubles all time (411)

1st in hits (1689)

5th in runs (918)

9th in runs/game (5.67)

5th in RBIs (874)

3rd in OPS (.836)

It’s hard to argue that the 2016 team wouldn’t be the best or at least among the top few best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise if the pace were to continue. I would imagine the pace would drop off slightly in the 2nd half of the season, but the lineup is so strong that I can’t imagine there will be many prolonged team slumps leading to an extreme drop. Now if only the pitching could improve…

Six All-Stars for 3rd Place Red Sox

Image from Fan World

Image from Fan World

Before another tough loss for the Red Sox on Tuesday night that dropped the Red Sox to 3rd place in the AL East, the 2016 All-Star rosters were announced. The Red Sox headlined the American League squad with 6 selections and the potential for a 7th (Dustin Pedroia is one of 5 players in the Final Vote). This is exciting news for the players and as a Red Sox fan, it will be enjoyable to watch them participate in all-star festivities, but do the Red Sox really deserve 6 or 7 all-stars?

The 3 of the 6 Red Sox players selected were no brainers: David OrtizXander Bogaerts and Steven Wright. Ortiz and Bogaerts are ranked 3rd and 5th respectively in all of baseball in batting average and it’s hard to argue they both aren’t the best player at their respective position in the AL, if not all of baseball (definitely for Ortiz with no DH in the NL). Wright has been stellar this season for the Red Sox. In 16 starts he has the 2nd best ERA in the AL (2.42) and has held opponents to a .217 batting average against. He will have a real shot at getting the nod to start for the AL on July 12th.

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What Went Wrong? The Rusney Castillo Story

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

On August 23rd, 2014 the Red Sox signed Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo to a 7 year and $72.5 million contract. It was the largest contract ever given to a Cuban player at that time. The Sox were trying to capitalize on the handful of other Cuban sluggers who had been signed to big-league contracts and have made a major-league impact (Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu). Even at the time however, the circumstances around the signing seemed a bit odd and risky.

When the signing happened, Castillo hadn’t played a game of professional baseball in Cuba since 2012. He attempted to escape from Cuba in 2012 and was then consequently suspended for the entire 2013 season. He was always touted as a speedy center-fielder with potential, but teams really only had a workout in Florida in July of 2014 to see his current ability. Other tape was from 2 years prior or earlier, which makes it difficult to scout a player. Maybe it is just me looking back in hindsight, but investing $72.5 million in a prospect who has not played organized baseball in years was an extreme risk.

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Close Games Continue to Hurt Red Sox

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Last night’s pitcher’s duel between David Price and Chris Tillman lived up to the hype. Both starters looked a little vulnerable early on, then settled in nicely with shutdown stuff. Unfortunately for Price, of the 5 hits he allowed, 2 were HRs leading to a 3-2 loss. This was the 14th game this year the Red Sox have played with the final score being a 1-run differential and they are 5-9 in those contests.

For me, close game records say a lot about a team. They give a glimpse into the team’s ability to pull together and rally. In last night’s game, the Red Sox bullpen was strong (only Craig Kimbrel for 1 inning), but their offense could not produce the big hit when needed. Earlier in the game, there were chances with runners on base and less than 2 outs that resulted in nothing.

The once over-powering offense top to bottom now has more holes than swiss cheese. Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw both had hits last night, but have been struggling mightily as of late. Christian Vazquez is what he is: a top tier defensive catcher who will hit in the low .200s. Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming back to earth with his average dropping from .350 on May 25th to .310 on June 15th. On their own, none of these things are season-changers, but all together it amounts to some serious struggle.

In June, the Red Sox have a 4-7 record and are 0-3 in 1-run games. Overall they are 15-17 against AL East opponents. Things are trending in the wrong direction.

Looking into the Red Sox Future

Over the past 5 years, the Red Sox have had some great success drafting and developing young talent. Tonight is the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft and rather than attempt to analyze who the Red Sox might pick, let’s take a look at who they have picked over the past 5 years and see where they are now. Since there are 40 rounds, the focus will be narrowed to top part of the draft and any notable lower picks. For those who are already bored, at least take a look at the 2011 draft, it’s something special!

2011
Round 1
RHP Matt Barnes (UConn)
C Blake Swihart

Compensation Round A
LHP Henry Owens
OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Rounds 2, 3, and 5 (in order)
OF Williams Jerez
C Jordan Weems
RHP Noe Ramirez
SS Mookie Betts

Round 9
3B Travis Shaw

Arguably the best draft of all time, by any team. Of the top 8 players selected, 6 have seen time with the Boston Red Sox this season (2 are back in AAA Pawtucket) and the other 2 are progressing with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. To prove the point even further, 5 of the top 12 picks are either everyday offensive players or frequent bullpen arms for the Red Sox in 2016, not including the 2 other pitchers in that group who have contributed at the big league level this year.

For those who are unfamiliar with how rare this draft truly was, take a look at the other drafts after this one for the Red Sox. There are usually 1-3 players who make the big leagues or who are waiting in the wings at AAA in a really good draft. This draft, thus far for the Red Sox, has produced 7 legitimate big league players, including a few picks that are on their way to becoming superstars.

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