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: travis shaw

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.

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.

Red Sox Reset: 5 Things to Watch for the Final 29 Games

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

As September arrives and minor league call-ups are beginning to get the good news from the Red Sox front office, a postseason run is in the air over Fenway Park. This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride and I suspect September will be no exception. If you are a Red Sox fan and invested in the team’s success, stock up on Tums and Pepto-Bismol now, because you are definitely going to need it. Here are 5 things to watch for with 29 games remaining in the Red Sox season.

5. The next 3 series will set the tone for the final 3 weeks

I know it’s cliche, but momentum down the stretch is absolutely critical. The final 23 games of the season are against AL East rivals, including teams directly in front and behind the Red Sox in the standings. The 6 games prior to that stretch are games on the west coast against the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres, two last-place, sub-.500 teams. I know west coast travel and playing on the road is tough, but if the Red Sox do not win 4 of 6 in these 2 series, it will be a failure. You have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat and these are the only remaining series in which you should have a significantly more talented group than your opponent.

4. The Red Sox starting pitching must avoid bad mistakes

The Red Sox pitching staff has gone through good and bad stretches throughout the season. In order to make the postseason and have a chance at perhaps winning a wild card game or a series, the Red Sox starters have to be smart and not give up the big hit or make a big pitch mistake in a tight situation. As of late, a bad pitch leading to a big HR or a big base hit has hurt the Red Sox and in closely contested, playoff-like games, one big pitch mistake could be the difference between a W and an L. The starters don’t need to shutout opponents because their offense is so talented, but consistent quality starts (6IP+, 3 or less ER) will go a long way to help the bullpen and put Ws on the board.

3. Effectively use September call-ups – especially at 3rd base

On September 1st (today), MLB rosters expand to 40 from 25. It allows teams to bring up younger talent and give them a chance to play in the big leagues. In this case, the name with a chance to have the biggest impact is Yoan Moncada, who has been working out at 3rd base in the minors. Since Spring Training, the hot corner has been a questionable spot in the Red Sox lineup. Pablo Sandoval is gone for the season (thankfully) and Travis Shaw started strong, but has accumulated 15 errors and been just OK in the batter’s box since. With call-ups, young phenom Moncada can get his chance to grab the 3rd base job from Shaw and potentially provide a nice spark for the Red Sox.

2. Avoid situations where John Farrell needs to make an in-game decision

I understand the premise of this is flawed, but bear with me because it’s incredibly important. John Farrell is a below-average manager when it comes to making in-game decisions, especially with the pitching staff (great for a former pitching coach, eh?). He has repeatedly made head-scratching decisions about which bullpen arm to use later in games and many of them have back-fired. The easiest way to avoid his incompetence without firing him? Avoid close games late. Take the game out of Farrell’s hands by putting games out of reach earlier on and leaving fewer guys on base. This is mostly on the Red Sox offense to round back into April/May form and put crooked numbers on the board whenever a decent scoring opportunity arises. I know it’s much easier said then done and they are never not trying to score, but a shift in mindset is necessary give the managerial incompetence.

1. Simply treat every remaining game like a 1-game playoff

Throughout the course of an 162-game season, there are some games you don’t push your pitching staff or bench as much as you could in order to rest players. It’s justified as an effort to preserve player health for the long-haul of a season. That’s over now. The Red Sox are 2 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East (who they play 6 more times) and 2 games ahead of the 3rd place Baltimore Orioles (who they play 7 more times). These and other opponents are playing for their playoff lives and it is highly likely that 1 game will have a significant impact on the difference between winning the division, grabbing a wild card spot and playing golf on October 3rd. Unless there is an extremely compelling reason, everyone should be available every single day, whether it’s off the bench for a pinch-run or pinch-hit scenario or out of the bullpen for a batter or two. Every game is absolutely critical and September is no time to be cautious.

Red Sox Acquire Infielder Aaron Hill

Roy Dabner/Journal Sentinel

Roy Dabner/Journal Sentinel

The Red Sox made a move today that involved a pitcher, but it wasn’t to bring one in, it was to ship one out. The Red Sox sent RHP Aaron Wilkerson and 2B Wendell Rijo to Milwaukee for veteran infielder Aaron Hill. After being traded to the Brewers earlier this year, Hill has hit .283 with 8 HRs and 29 RBIs in 78 games. Many Red Sox fans may remember Hill from his 5+ years spent in the AL East with the Toronto Blue Jays. At 34 years old, he is a stable veteran presence who will get some good playing time backing up Travis Shaw, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez.

Wilkerson is a nice prospect, but not likely a long-term solution for the Red Sox in the starting rotation. Capitalizing on his great year in Pawtucket by getting a major league asset back via trade is a smart move from Dave Dombrowski. Rijo was ranked as the 17th best prospect in the Red Sox system and at 2B, is behind a lot of talent before he reaches the majors, so an easily expendable piece.

This was a nice depth move that makes the Red Sox major league roster a little better. We are all awaiting a pitching move or two to really get excited about.

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…

Is Epic Comeback a Turning Point?

When David Price got pulled after 2.1 innings and 6 runs in Texas last night, it felt like another lost night. The Red Sox got 2 runs back on a Hanley Ramirez HR, then Matt Barnes abruptly gave up a HR to make the score 7-2 after 4 innings. With a thin bullpen and a struggling offense, I didn’t think there was any chance of a W. Then the 9th inning happened.

Down 7-4 in the 9th, Jackie Bradley Jr. walked to kick off the inning before Bryce Brentz struckout and Travis Shaw popped-out. Then the Red Sox spark plug, Sandy Leon, stepped in and ripped an RBI double to get the rally started. Mookie Betts promptly crushed a 2-run HR to tie the game.  A Dustin Pedroia walk, Xander Bogaerts single and a wild pitch gave the Red Sox a lead to stay. Koji Uehara shut the door in the bottom of the 9th and the Red Sox walked away with a marquee win.

Last night’s win was desperately needed. It felt like the season was beginning to get away from the Red Sox after losing 12 of the last 21 games and slipping to 2nd place in the AL East. The offense was struggling to score more than 2 runs and the pitching staff looked vulnerable. All problems are certainly not resolved after 1 win, but watching the team pick up a terrible start from their ace by coming back to win against a very good Rangers team is inspiring.

It feels like last night could be the boost the team needs to begin playing better and winning some games. Unlike earlier in the season where it felt as though they could come back from any deficit with their potent offense, lately their team confidence level had dipped. A win like this can only help to improve that confidence moving forward.

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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