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: pittsburgh pirates

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.

Red Sox Opening Day

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. –Rogers Hornsby

The weather in Boston is going to be perfect for the 2:05pm first pitch of the Red Sox 2017 season today. The 50 degree sunshine will light up Fenway Park in anticipation of strong campaign for the hanging socks. The expectations are high and the mood is hopeful as the Red Sox begin their season at home for the first time since 2010 (a 9-7 win over the Yankees). Overall, the home opener has been kind to the Sox, winning 10 of the last 12 and going 69-47 in home openers since 1901. Today, the Red Sox will match up with inter-league foe, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One can analyze this team and spring performances until blue in the face, but the only thing that matters is what happens between the lines when the games count. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello toes the rubber this afternoon as a nod to his 2016 performance and then Wednesday, fans get officially introduced to the biggest addition to this Red Sox club, SP Chris Sale. The lineup will have a different feel from last year without David Ortiz, but they still could be a force in the AL.

Now, for the 2 words we have been waiting all winter to hear…Play Ball!

Is the World Baseball Classic Good for Baseball?

On Monday, in the wee hours of the morning here in the U.S., the World Baseball Classic (WBC) began in Seoul, South Korea. The first game pitted the lowest ranked international team in the competition, Israel, vs host South Korea. The game was tied at 1 until the top of the 10th inning when Israel drove in the winning run, upsetting the host nation. That game began a 2-week international competition aimed at engaging other countries in the sport of baseball awhile providing an opportunity for players to represent their home nations. The tournament will culminate with a title game in Los Angeles on March 23rd, but does anyone even care? Should you even care?

The WBC is an attempt to expand the reach of baseball internationally and for that alone I give it the tip of my cap. Any increased interest in baseball internationally is a great, but how does this impact those in the U.S. and Canada who already have easy access to the sport? Ultimately, it may hurt. Let me explain…

The timing of the WBC is squarely in the middle of spring training. Top stars from around the world have now left their MLB teams to practice and play in high-leverage games around the world with just 2 weeks of training behind them. Normally, these players ease into competition for a month before even thinking about really pushing themselves hard in games that matter. Throwing off the rhythm of a big league ball player could spell disaster as the very long baseball season wears on. It could result in injuries during the tournament or injuries caused by playing several more meaningful games very early in the year, especially for those on teams who reach the finals. The last WBC was in 2013 and the MLB saw a spike in DL stints during the season (521) compared to the season prior (485) and the season following (476)*.

Injuries are bad for baseball, especially if the injured players are stars or well-known commodities. The majority of ticket buyers pay to see their favorites players on their field, not to watch their minor league back-up get some MLB action (even if that young kid is the future). An unknown player won’t sell jerseys and apparel that make the MLB a boatload of money; ultimately reducing revenues, hurting baseball. Realistically the impact is likely small in the scheme of things, but if for example Andrew McCutchen gets injured in the tournament and can’t play for the Pittsburgh Pirates for awhile, that hurts the game of baseball.

I’m sure the WBC really does increase the interest in baseball globally and allows fans in places like South Korea, Mexico, and Japan to see MLB players play live, but for me, a fan of the MLB in the U.S., it feels unnecessary and potentially harmful to the overall product.

***

If you are a crazy baseball person like me and want an underdog story to follow, look no further than team Israel. Ranked 41st in the world, they made the 16 team tournament as tremendous underdogs. The next lowest ranked team is 19th ranked Columbia. As of writing this post, they are 2-0 in group play, beating host South Korea and Chinese Taipei. They have 1 game left in pool play vs. powerhouse Netherlands and are almost assured a spot in the final 8 with their first 2 wins. Their roster is filled with mostly minor-league prospects and just a few somewhat familiar names (Ryan Lavarnway, Sam Fuld). Just making the tournament was an accomplishment, forget finishing in the top-half. I’m a sucker for a good underdog story!

*DL stint information provided by www.baseballheatmaps.com.