Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boston Blows it Up

Lester and many of his former Boston teammates are gone. Why? (NYPost)
For the second time in three years, the Boston Red Sox are a last place team going nowhere. And so for the second time in three years, the Boston Red Sox will finish a season with a team that's drastically different from the one that started it.

With the dust having settled on another dizzying day of deadline deals, (David Price to the Tigers!) it's time to take stock of the radically-altered Red Sox roster. The Beaneaters are a much different team tonight than they were a week--heck, even 12 hours--ago. A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore and Chris Capuano were the first to go, all by way of DFA. Then Jake Peavy, poor Jake Peavy, was traded. A fed-up Felix Doubront followed him out the door shortly thereafter.

Then today it was Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Stephen Drew and Andrew Miller, all gone in a flurry of deadline swaps. With them went any hope of Boston pulling it together and making a push in the season's final two months. Not like that was going to happen, anyways.

So starting tomorrow (the Sox were off today), Red Sox fans will have to start getting used to a bunch of new faces. Because nearly nine months to the day after celebrating a World Series championship at Fenway Park, 11 of the 25 guys who won it are gone (counting Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Ryan Dempster, all of whom departed over the winter). As quickly as the championship team came together during the winter of 2013, it only took a few weeks for Ben Cherington to dismantle that same team piece by piece, trading away key pieces in the infield, outfield, and bullpen, not to mention 60 percent of the starting rotation.

It's sad, if only because it didn't have to happen this way. The Red Sox were the best team in baseball last year, and they could have been great again this year if only they'd been more aggressive in the offseason. In retrospect, this roster clearly needed more than the few tweaks Cherington made over the winter. It was too dependent on youngsters breaking out and aging veterans replicating their overachievements from the year before. It desperately needed more power, particularly in the outfield (hello, Nelson Cruz), and a catcher who wasn't 37 years old. And pitching--you can never have enough of that.

Red Sox leadership got smug. They didn't see the need to drastically overhaul a roster that had just won baseball's biggest prize, a team that few expected to make the playoffs before the season began, much less win it all. And so they mostly stood pat. While other teams in their division dramatically improved, the Red Sox let themselves get weaker. They got complacent.

And now nearly half the team is gone. Boston's bottomed out and Cherington, as he did last time the Sox were awful, purged many of his best players. But whereas his 2012 firesale was primarily for salary relief--a rare opportunity to unload dead payroll and start fresh--this round actually cost the Red Sox money.

No, this wasn't about giving a rookie GM the chance to build his team the way he wanted; it was about retooling and trying to reload for a more competitive season in 2015. That's why Boston traded for established major league players rather than  prospects. They weren't good enough to win now, but they also can't afford to rebuild and wait three or four years to contend again. The pressure in Boston, perhaps America's most crazed baseball city, is simply too great to allow for that kind of time.

Cherington, as he did two years ago, had to rebuild on the fly. He did a great job then obviously--the World Series ring speaks for itself--and I have to think he did a great job now. . Big Ben got two decent pitching prospects from San Fran for Peavy, which is more than anyone thought he'd get for a 33 year-old with a 1-9 record and 4.72 ERA. Then he somehow managed to convince his old bosses in Chicago that Doubront (2-4, 6.07 ERA) was worth taking off his hands.

But he was just getting warmed up. This morning he dealt Lester, a free agent at season's end, along with Gomes to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes, a righthanded power hitter who should thrive at Fenway, and a compensation pick. Then he sent his next-best starting pitcher, Lackey, with Corey Littrell and cash to St. Louis for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig, the former a third-year starting pitcher nearly ten years Lackey's junior and the latter a .312/.364/.500 hitter over the previous three seasons. Miller was swapped to Baltimore for Eduardo Rodriguez, just 21 and a top-100 prospect before the season began.

But the coup of all coups was that he was able to find a suitor for Stephen Drew, a 31 year-old shortstop batting below .200 and making more than $10 million this year. Not surprisingly, that team was the Yankees, who have always been fond of overpriced veteran players on their way down. Drew should have been next to untradeable, and yet Cherington was able to move him for Kelly Johnson, who's one year older than Drew but can play multiple positions and has been a better hitter this year. I'm not saying Johnson's better than Drew, but he definitely can't be any worse.

Last year's fluky title aside, the 2014 Red Sox are a terrible team (third-worst in the American League entering play today). Kudos to Cherington for recognizing that and doing some wheeling and dealing at the deadline to start improving their odds for next year. Rather than settle for a bevy of prospects that might never pan out, he was able to get back a good amount of established major league talent in return. Their lineup is instantly better with Cespedes representing a big upgrade over Gomes in left and addition by subtraction in Drew's departure, which opens up a move back to short for Xander Bogaerts and regular playing time at third for Brock Holt and potentially Will Middlebrooks. The decimated rotation will be replenished shortly by Boston's bountiful minor league arms with Anthony Ranuado, Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and others on their way.

But don't give Cherington too much credit for essentially fixing his own mistake of not doing enough to help the team last winter. Had he, they wouldn't be in last place and none of this would have been necessary. He wouldn't have needed to break out the brooms and clean house on a team that could and should have been able to at least be competitive in a weak AL East this year. The lovable band of bearded idiots could have stayed together a little while longer.

Nowadays it's impossible to keep championship teams together for very long. I get that. But you think they could have at least survived the summer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maddux Musings

Ten thoughts on the recently inducted and much-deserving Hall of Famer Greg Maddux:

1. Maddux pitched for many great teams in Atlanta and won a ton of games--355 of them--so it's rather surprising that a) he never won more than 20 games in a season and b) he enjoyed only two 20 win seasons. Maddux managed five with 19 and two others with 18.

2. I think the most impressive part of Maddux's track record is his durability. From his second season in 1987 through his final season in 2008, he started at least 25 games every year. He topped 200 innings every year from 1988 through 2001, including the strike years of 1994-95, and missed extending that streak by two outs in 2002. He went on to compile four more 200 inning seasons consecutively and 18 in all, the last of which came at age 40. Even at 41 (198 innings) and 42 (194 in his final season) he remained indestructible. That longevity is a testament to his control and efficiency as much as it is his ability to stay healthy. He threw more than 5,000 innings in his career which, if you think about it, requires 25 seasons with 200 innings or 20 of 250. Seeing as how Maddux pitched 23 seasons, the first of which yielded only five starts and two of which were shortened by strikes, he essentially did the latter.

3. I'm really surprised that Maddux "only" won four ERA titles. You look at some of his ERA numbers and think about the context, and it's hard to see how he didn't win with a 2.18 in 1992, or a 2.72 in 1997, or a 2.20 the year after, or a 2.62 in 2002.

4. It blows my mind that Maddux maintained a 3.16 career ERA considering that he started out with a 5.59 ERA through his first two seasons and finished up with 4.13 ERA. He pitched more than 1,400 innings, almost 30 percent of his career total, that weren't very good, but still managed a 3.16 ERA. In the 15 years in between (1988-2002) it was 2.68. His worst ERA during that span was his 3.57 in 1999, a year that saw two players eclipse 60 homers.

5. Maddux often helped his own cause with his terrific defense, which won him 18 Gold Gloves--the most at any position ever.

6. Even as he got older, Maddux never got hurt and never deteriorated into a poor pitcher. While his ERA was over 3.95 in each of his last six seasons, it was still four percent better than average and helped him add 13.5 bWAR to his career total. He still had the league's lowest walk rate in four of those seasons as well, which helped him remain effective even as his velocity declined and he became more hittable

7. What really blows me away about Maddux is that he only had one season where he struck out 200 batters, and even then he just barely did so (204 in 1998).

8. At his peak Maddux was unreal. From 1992 through 1998, when Maddux compiled 54.6 of his 104.6 career bWAR, he had an ERA below 2.40 in six out of seven (and in the year he missed it was 2.72) while averaging 239 innings per year. In four of those years his WHIP was under 1.00, and it stood at 0.97 for the full seven. His K/BB ratio was 4.78. It was like Pedro Martinez's run a few years later, and if Maddux had retired at the end of it he'd be the modern-day Sandy Koufax, only better.

9. Maddux was phenomenal at limiting the long ball. In the seven years I just mentioned, he allowed 66 home runs. Total. That works out to be less than 10 per year, obviously, and while the steroid era was fully underway. In 1994 he was taken deep four times. Four! And the next year, only eight. Two years later--nine. The best collection of power hitters baseball's ever seen, jacked up on Lord knows what, couldn't do much damage against Maddux at his best.

10. Maddux hold the major league record for most seasons leading the league in games started (7) and most inside the top 10 in wins (18).

Glavine's Greatness

Here are ten testaments to Tom Glavine's greatness

1. Glavine did not go on the Disabled List until his age 42 (and final) season in 2008.

2. Like his rotationmate and fellow inductee Greg Maddux, Glavine was incredibly durable, making at least 25 starts in every season from 1988 through 2007. That's 20 years, in the last of which he threw 200 and a third innings at age 41.

3. Speaking of Maddux, I find it funny that Glavine made more All-Star teams (10) than Maddux (8). Glavine also had five 20 win seasons to Maddux's two.

4. Many pitchers are doomed to consistently finish with 17-19 wins per year while rarely reaching 20. Maddux was one such pitcher, Mike Mussina another. Glavine wasn't. He won precisely 20 three times, 21 once and 22 once, but never 19 and 18 only once. He had zero 17-win seasons. This probably explains why whenever Glavine received Cy Young consideration, (six times--including all five 20-win seasons--and winning twice) he never finished outside the top-three.

5.Glavine was a pretty decent hitting-pitcher, winning four Silver Slugger awards (second only to Mike Hampton all-time) and batting as high as .289 in 1996. Far from an automatic out, Glavine got on base in nearly one-quarter of his plate appearances. Interestingly enough, his best run as a hitter (1995 through 1998, when he won three of his four Silver Sluggers) also coincided with his best run as a pitcher. His 2.87 ERA over that stretch was 48 percent better than average on a league and park adjusted basis. As a batter he contributed 7.5 bWAR over the course of his career.

6. Great as Glavine was, the 1995 World Series MVP was even better in the playoffs, with a 3.30 postseason ERA compared to his 3.54 regular season mark. He pitched the equivalent of a full season in October, making 35 starts (24 of them quality) and throwing 218 and a third innings. And while he had a losing record in the playoffs (14-16), his teams had a winning record (18-17). Opponents batted .237/.316/.366 against him in the postseason compared to .257/.319/.378 in the regular season.

7. I believe he is still the only pitcher to throw two shutouts at Coors Field.

8. Glavine's 682 starts are a record for someone who never made a relief appearance. Throw in his 35 postseason starts--also without a relief appearance--and that makes 717.

9. One of only six southpaws with at least 300 career wins. The others are Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, and Eddie Plank.

10. Glavine was rarely great, with only two seasons over the six-win mark and just two more above five, but he was always good (typically in the three-to-four win range). His adjusted ERA was better than average every year but one from 1991 through 2006 and he had four other seasons (1989, 90, 2003, and 07) where it was very close to average.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ten Thoughts on Thomas

Here are ten thoughts on new Hall of Famer Frank Thomas:

1. During The Big Hurt's incredible ten-year run from 1991 through 2000, he walked 363 more times than he struck out. When he peaked during his back-to-back MVP seasons of 1993-1994, he slugged 79 home runs while fanning only 115 times.

2. I'm amazed at how consistent his runs scored totals stayed during the '90s. In his eight straight seasons with over 100 runs from 1991 through '98 he scored between 102 and 110 runs, scoring 106 in back-to-back seasons ('93 and '94) and 110 in consecutive years as well ('96 and '97).

3. Thomas's on-base percentages are just off-the-charts. He was well over .400 in each of his first eight seasons--when his OBP was over .450 every year but one--and 11 times in all. He peaked at .487 in 1994, led the league four times and had four other top-four finishes. His .419 career mark is the 19th highest of all-time and second only to Barry Bonds among players who began their careers in the last 60 years.

4. Like Duke Snider, Thomas managed five 40 homer seasons but never exceeded 43 in any season. What's even more astonishing is that despite five 40 homer seasons, four others with more than 30 and 521 for his career, Thomas never led the American League in long balls. He was runner-up four times, third once and fifth twice, but never tops. It's also just as amazing to me that he knocked in over 1,700 runs and enjoyed 11 seasons with more than 100 but never led the league, despite driving in 125 or more four times including as many as 143 in 2000.

5. It blows my mind that a player who averaged 36 homers, 118 RBI, and a .330 batting average for eight years not only never won the Triple Crown, but came away with zero home run crowns, zero RBI titles and only one batting championship. That's all he would win in a career that produced 521 long balls, 1,704 RBI and a .301 batting average. The '90s were just a different time.

6. I find it pretty amazing that even as a full-time designated hitter at age 39, Thomas still managed to stay on the field for 155 games, blast 26 home runs and drive in 95. It's almost as amazing that the next year he was done at 40, posting the worst OPS of his career and not even playing half a season. When players lose it, especially at that age, it often happens overnight.

7. Funny how his career paralleled that of Ken Griffey Jr. Junior debuted in 1989, one year before Thomas, and both were first round draft picks. They dominated the American League throughout the 1990s, when they were perennial All-Stars and won three MVP awards between them. They had their last truly great season in 2000 before injuries ravaged the second half of their careers, limiting them to sporadic success in their thirties. Both retired following their age 40 season.

Griffey '90-'00 6,813 PA 1,102 R 1,763 H 774 XBH 1,209 RBI .299/.384/.579 65.3 oWAR
Thomas '90-'00 6,799 PA 1,083 R 1,755 H 715 XBH 1,183 RBI .321/.440/.579 65 oWAR

8. One can pretty much draw a dividing line in Thomas's career at the 2000 season. In his 11 seasons before 2001 he bettered a .300 average and .400 OBP ten times and had nine seasons with at least 100 runs, RBI and walks. After 2000 he never again batted .280, scored 100 runs, or made an All-Star team and had only one season with a .400 OBP. He actually became a better slugger in the second half of his career, averaging one home run per 15.4 at-bats after age 32 compared to one every 15.9 before. A career .321 hitter through age 32, he batted just .262 over his final eight seasons and nearly lost his lifetime .300 average a la Mickey Mantle.

Thomas '90-'00 .321/.440/.579 1.018 OPS 169 OPS+ 835/1188 K/BB 15.9 AB/HR 58.7 bWAR
Thomas '01-'08 .262/.376/.507 .884 OPS 130 OPS+ 562/479 K/BB 15.4 AB/HR 15 bWAR

9. I'm shocked that Thomas made only five All-Star teams. How he didn't make it in 1991, when he led the majors in walks, OBP, OPS, and finished third in the AL MVP voting is beyond me. Or how about 1992, he he led the majors in doubles and American League in walks, OBP, and OPS? Or in 2000, when he was MVP runner-up. Thomas did not make an All-Star team in any of his 11 final seasons, even though he eclipsed 100 RBI four times, had a pair of 40 homer seasons and another with 39, and five times posted an OPS over .900.

10. The 1990s had so much power/home runs that Thomas had to slug .729 just to lead the league. He slugged over .600 five other times and never led the league in any of those seasons.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Santana Smoking Hot

Santana's swinging a hot bat after slumping through April and May (WahoosOnFirst)
The Cleveland Indians are deservedly off today after 11 straight road games to open the second half. And while I'm sure every Indian's thankful for the reprieve, especially with Cleveland having lost six of its last eight, something tells me Carlos Santana wouldn't mind another game tonight.

The former-catcher-turned-corner-infielder has been unconscious over the past week, hitting safely in seven straight games and launching six home runs during that span. His hitting streak, modest as it is, has also produced three doubles and six singles. That makes 15 base knocks in 27 at-bats, a .556 clip that's hiked his season average from a Mario Mendoza-esque .204 to a still-lowly-but-more-respectable .232.

But it's the home runs--five of 'em in the past three days and 14 since the start of June--that have people talking. Santana's slugging percentage rose from .380 after last Sunday to .456, just a tick below his 2014 high-water mark of .462 four games into the season. The 28 year-old Dominican kicked off his monster weekend with a pair of long balls off the young Yordano Ventura Friday night, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Santana had played 14 innings--a game and a half--the day before.

But despite his big day at the plate, the Indians lost that game and the next one, too, blowing a five run lead on Saturday that Santana started with a solo shot off Jeremy Guthrie. He walked later in the inning and doubled his next time up, but Zach McAllister couldn't keep the Royals at bay and the Tribe fell, 7-5.

After losing the first three games of their series in Kansas City and falling behind early in the fourth, Cleveland salvaged the series and road trip with a 10-3 rout yesterday. The switch-hitting Santana led the way, smashing a two-run homer off Bruce Chen and another off Aaron Crow. The pair of bombs gave him eight on the month and upped his season total to 20, equaling his figure from last year but in 59 fewer games. They also raised his OPS to .827, 101 points higher than where it stood one week ago.

With Cleveland one game below .500 but only 3.5 out of the second wild card spot, Santana's hot streak couldn't have come at a better time for Terry Francona's scuffling club. They need him to keep producing big power numbers out of the cleanup spot if they're going to stay in the hunt for a second straight postseason berth. Thankfully for them he appears to have put his miserable start (.572 OPS through May 21st) behind him. After going through a recent rough stretch where he struck out 14 times in the seven games leading up to the All-Star Break, Santana seems to be seeing the ball more clearly and has had much more success making contact lately, with nine walks against four whiffs in his first 51 plate appearances of the second half.

Santana has always been a patient hitter who's at his very best when he waits for his pitch, putting himself in a position where he can lay back and drive the ball, taking advantage of the natural power that's cranked out 85 homers over the past three and a half seasons. This year's major league leader in walks has definitely been doing that a lot lately, and he'll try to stay hot tomorrow night against Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A New (England) Season is Born While Another Dies

The Red Sox died a grisly death in Toronto today (Boston Herald)
Today was a pivotal day in Boston sports with the dawn of one season coinciding with the end of another.

Today was the first day of Patriots training camp, a day that ignited Super Bowl dreams across New England. With an improved defense (welcome aboard, Darrelle Revis), renewed health (Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Rob Gronkowski, oh how we missed thee) and a perfect marriage between the sport's smartest coach (Big Bill) and one of its finest quarterbacks (Tom Terrific). Patriots fans are hopeful this will be the year their team snaps its decade-long championship drought.

But while the Pats' preseason was getting underway in Foxborough, marking the glorious return of football and inspiring optimistic predictions of a sixth Super Bowl appearance for Belichick and Brady, Boston's bumbling baseball team effectively blew what little chance it had left to make the playoffs. Winners of eight of nine following a big 14-1 win on Monday night, the streaky Sox proceeded to drop the next three games against the Blue Jays. Playing what amounted to a must-win game in late July, the Red Sox got their butts kicked in this afternoon's series finale. It was the final nail in the coffin of a season that (unoffically) ended weeks ago.

With his team desperately needing a win, Rubby De La Rosa simply wasn't up to task. He failed to keep the Sox in the game, allowing runs in four of the five innings he pitched in and seven in all. Not that it mattered, because any amount of runs De La Rosa allowed was going to be too much on this day, unless that number was zero. Boston managed one measly hit--a Shane Victorino single--and was shut down by 23 year-old Marcus Stroman. Though the game wasn't truly out of reach until the fifth inning, for all intents and purposes it was over as soon as the Blue Jays plated their first run. The Red Sox went down without a whimper.

Boston's third straight loss dropped them to eight games below .500 on the season and deeper into last place, where they've resided for most of the month. The struggling Sox will try to turn it around tomorrow night against the surging Tampa Bay Rays, winners of seven straight and 25 of their last 36. Expect another quiet day for Boston's bats against David Price and a tough-luck loss for Jon Lester as a result.

It's hard to believe that just three days ago Boston appeared to be on the verge of climbing back into the race. Now they're dead, and September can't come fast enough.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Let Loo-Eee In

Tiant was one of the best pitchers of his time and all-time (ESPN)
With the Hall of Fame induction ceremony coming up this weekend and the Red Sox playing well (for now), I wanted to take a look at a pitcher who many feel was overlooked by the Hall, a pitcher who would undoubtedly go in wearing a Red Sox cap if he's ever enshrined.

I'm talking, of course, about Luis Tiant, a fan favorite and talented pitcher with Boston for much of the 1970s. El Tiante was a beloved figure in Beantown, where he revived his career in his 30s and emerged as that decade's equivalent of Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez with the Sox. 

But before I talk about Tiant's brilliant tenure with Boston, I think it's important to remember that he was a great pitcher long before he ever put on a Red Sox uniform. Purchased by the Cleveland Indians for $35,000 in the summer of 1961 (about $279,000 in today's dollars), Tiant earned a midsummer call-up to the Indians three years later. His first start was one of the most impressive debuts any pitcher has ever had, a four-hit shutout of the defending and eventual AL champion Yankees at the Stadium. He outdueled Whitey Ford in the second game of a doubleheader, fanning 11 Bombers (including Roger Maris twice) to earn the first of his 229 major league wins. 

A star was born. The 23 year-old Tiant pitched well down the stretch, finishing his rookie year with a 10-4 record, 2.83 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, good for nearly four wins above replacement. He gradually got better in each of the next four seasons, lowering his FIP and walk rate every year while improving his K/BB ratio. The last of those seasons, 1968, was by far the best of his career.  In addition to going 21-9, he led the American League in ERA (1.60), ERA+ (186), shutouts (9), FIP (2.04), and pitching WAR (8.4). He also had the lowest hit rate in baseball at 5.3/9, limiting opponents to a .168/.233/.262 batting line and posting a 0.87 WHIP. On top of all that, he racked up 264 punchouts in 258-and-a-third stellar innings, part of his 3.62 K/BB ratio. Fun trivia fact: Tiant was the Junior Circuit's starting pitcher in that year's All-Star game. Not so fun fact: Tiant failed to receive a single Cy Young vote that year (but yet finished fifth in the MVP voting).

Tiant's masterful 1968 season is one of the great seasons forgotten to history. Because it coincided with the Year of the Pitcher, a season that saw Denny McLain win 31 games, Bob Gibson compile a 1.12 ERA and Don Drysdale hurl 58 consecutive scoreless innings, Tiant had a hard time standing out above the crowd/making noise for an also-ran Indians team.

Not yet 28 at the end of his big breakout campaign, Tiant had established himself as one of the premier pitchers in baseball. With 23 WAR already under his belt, he'd been one of the American League's five most valuable pitchers since breaking in. Furthermore, he'd done nothing but improve over his first 1,000 big league innings. No one could have foreseen that in three short years, he would very nearly be out of baseball.

1969 was a terrible year for Tiant and the Indians, who went from third place and 86 wins in '68 to 62 wins in 1969. Cleveland finished last in the newly minted AL East, 18 games behind the next-worst team (New York). Tiant tumbled to 9-20, leading the majors in losses, walks, and home runs allowed. Overnight, Tiant had gone from the American League's best pitcher to one of the worst in baseball. 

He was gone before Christmas. The Indians whisked him away to Minnesota along with Stan Williams in return for Dean Chance, Graig Nettles, Bob Miller, and Ted Uhlaender, a trade that would have worked out wonderfully for Cleveland had a) Chance not fallen apart the second he got there and b) they'd held on to Nettles for more than three years. 

Tiant must have been excited to escape the moribound Indians and land with a first place club in Minnesota. He flourished in his new digs, going 6-0 with a 3.12 ERA in his first 10 starts with the Twins before a fractured right scapula derailed his bounce back season. Tiant missed more than two months, and while he returned in time for the stretch run he wasn't quite the same. His first taste of the postseason was a bad one; mop-up duty in Game 2, in which he recorded two outs only after surrendering a two-run homer to Davey Johnson. He did not pitch again in the series, as Minnesota was swept the next day.

The injury that had ruined Tiant's first year with the Twins now jeopardized his once-promising career. After an ineffective and injury-plagued spring training, the 30 year-old was unconditionally released. His playing days appeared to be numbered. A couple weeks later the Braves picked him up for a 30 day trial with their Triple-A affiliate in Richmond, and at the end of the 30 days decided he was not worth a major league roster spot. That two teams had given up on him in the span of six weeks didn't discourage the perpetually pitching-strapped Red Sox from scooping him up two days after Atlanta cur him loose. It turned out to be one of the best decisions they've ever made.

A finally healthy Tiant returned to form in Boston (Bostinno)

Tiant's stint with the Sox lasted eight seasons, during which time he won 122 games with a 3.36 ERA, made two All-Star teams, piled up 36.4 bWAR and finished in the top-six of Cy Young voting three times. It was during this time that El Tiante earned a reputation as one of baseball's best big game pitchers. He was phenomenal throughout the pennant races of 1972, 1974 and 1978, pitching valiantly for Red Sox teams that were always coming up just short. Though Tiant struggled during the one pennant race Boston did win, he was at his absolute best in that year's wild postseason. After firing a complete game shutout against the three-time defending World Series champs in Game 1 of the ALCS, Tiant came back one week later and spun another shutout in the first game of the World Series against the vaunted Big Red Machine. He again went the distance in Game 4 to even the Series. He finally ran out of gas in Game 6, but luckily for him Bernie Carbo, Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk had some late-game heroics up their sleeves.

After the heartache of '78 Tiant, by then 38 and desperate for a ring, defected to the Yankees via free agency. Nobody could blame him for latching on with the winners of the last three American League pennants and two World Series. The irony, though, is that  the streak ended as soon as Tiant donned pinstripes. New York finished fourth in 1979, Tiant's last good season, and would not win another title until 1996, by which point Tiant was closing in on 56. He was a great old pitcher, but nobody, not even Tiant, could hang around that long. He hung up his spikes for good after 1982 after 19 seasons and nearly 3,500 regular season innings. He has since been inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame and Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame, but still waits for the call from the only Hall of Fame anyone actually cares about, as in the one located in upstate New York.

Now, did what El Tiante accomplish during that time merit a plaque in Cooperstown? The writers voted unequivocally no. Tiant stayed on the ballot for all 15 years of eligibility, but only in his first year did he receive more than 20 percent of the vote. After that, he was never really a serious candidate. Should he have been?

It's easy to make the case that the answer to that question is no, that he was a Hall of Very Good pitcher who was more style than substance. Tiant never won a Cy Young award, finishing no higher than fourth and drawing votes in only three seasons. He made only three All-Star teams. His rate stats are all good but not great. Though Tiant paced AL pitchers in WAR in '68, many would say McLain had the better year, meaning Tiant was never the best pitcher in his league, let alone the game. With only three seasons among the league's five most valuable pitchers, he didn't dominate. And sure, he was great in the postseason, but how many World Series did he win? Mickey Lolich was more or less Tiant's equal, and one doesn't hear many clamoring for him to make the Hall of Fame. In fact, seven of Tiant's 10 best statistical comps are currently outside the Hall and none are currently up for election.Many of his seasons were mediocre, with nine of his 19 years rating between below average to barely above average based on ERA-. 

But Tiant, even if he does fall short on Black Ink, Gray Ink, the Hall of Fame monitor and Hall of Fame standards, does have a strong statistical case. He was the American League's third-most valuable pitcher when he played, behind only Bert Blyleven (Class of 2011) and Lolich, the latter a respected member of the Hall of Very Good. Expand the timeframe from 1951 through 1990, a stretch of 40 seasons, and Tiant still ranks as the league's fifth-best pitcher. Better than Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Catfish Hunter, and the man he beat in his first big league start. What's more, three of his six closest comps are already in the Hall. With over 66 career bWAR, Tiant is very much a viable candidate for Cooperstown. By the standards of the Hall of Stats, he makes it in comfortably.

 JAWS rates him 51st all-time among starting pitchers. Remove the guys who started their careers before 1900, and Tiant's one of the 50 best starting pitchers of all-time. Seeing as how he ranks 21st in shutouts, 39th in strikeouts, and 40th in pitching WAR, I buy that. Though he's a bit below the established standards for peak and longevity, he still comes in ahead of luminaries such as Jim Bunning, John Smoltz, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn. It does concern me that of the 59 starters already in the Hall, including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Tiant outranks just 13 of them. He rates lower than Wes Ferrell, Kevin Brown, and Rick Reuschel, among others. 

The two things I look for in a Hall of Fame case are a peak and longevity. Tiant obviously had good longevity, as he pitched until he was almost 42 and made close to 500 big league starts. He had eight seasons with more than 200 innings, three more than just missed and four others with over 100. 11 times he made 29 or more starts in a season. 

As for peak, well, Tiant technically had two peaks. He had his five-year run with Cleveland, which wasn't so much a peak as it was one amazing season preceded by several good ones. Then there was his second prime, covering his last seven seasons with Boston and his first in New York. In both cases he was one of the league's five-best pitchers for an extended period of time (40 years, in fact, as I noted a few paragraphs before). And as one of baseball's 50 best since 1900, which gets narrowed to 25 if you exclude those who debuted before Jackie Robinson, then it becomes pretty clear that Tiant is indeed Cooperstown-worthy. I'd say there are more-deserving pitchers still waiting to be inducted (Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and the aforementioned Brown come to mind), but Tiant at least deserves another look from the Veteran's Committee. The BBWAA has not done a great job of electing starting pitchers who aren't slam-dunks, leaving recent generations of pitchers poorly represented in the Hall. It's up to the VC to rectify those mistakes.

I'll admit I wasn't totally sold on the idea of Tiant as a Hall of Famer when I started writing this, but after taking a closer look I think I'd give him a pass. He had five truly great seasons--1968, 1972-1974, and 1976--and enough success in other years (his first few with Cleveland a few more in the late '70s). Throw in his celebrity status in Boston and his track record of success in big games (which, unlike Jack Morris, extended beyond one game) and I think he did just enough to get over the top. 

It's a really tough call though, and if you check back with me tomorrow I might not feel the same way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yaz or Papi?

As great as Ortiz has been, he can't hold a candle to Yaz 
With David Ortiz passing Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list last night, sports radio was rife today with passionate debate over which one was better.

To me, this isn't even an argument. Yaz by a lot. Case closed.

Now I'll readily concede that Ortiz, at least since he's come over to the Red Sox, has been a better hitter than Yastrzemski. Interestingly enough their career batting averages are identical at .285, and their career OBPs are within a point of each other as well. Both were fantastic in the clutch, too. Still, there's no question that Ortiz, with his 84 point edge in slugging percentage/ISo and superior home run total in about 5,300 fewer plate appearances, has been the superior slugger. Yaz managed only eight seasons with at least 20 homers in his 23-year career, while Ortiz already has 13 such seasons (consecutively, I might add) in his 18 years.

That said, it must also be remembered that the long ball is much more commonplace nowadays than it was when Yaz played. For most of Ortiz's career, baseball teams have typically averaged around one home run per game, usually a little more. Back in Yastrzemski's day, that number tended to be around 0.7 or 0.8. So for Yaz to have as many 40 homer seasons--three--as Ortiz really is quite impressive. For all of Ortiz's dingers, he still has only one home run title--same as Yastrzemski (who, fun fact, shared his with Harmon Killebrew in 1967).

Looking at batting runs, Ortiz also comes out on top on a per-game basis. With 372 batting runs above average in just over 2,000 games, Ortiz has averaged a batting run every 5.5 games played. With 450 in 3,308 games, Yaz tallied one every 7.35 games. A pretty sizable difference, but also note that Yastrzemski produced next to nothing in this category over his final nine seasons, managing only 50 in his last 1,200 or so games. Before 1975 he had 400 batting runs in in just over 2,100 games, meaning he was right there with Ortiz.

So yes, Ortiz been a better hitter and run producer than Yaz was, but not by as much as his advantage in power numbers would suggest. It's really close, actually, after considering the context of the eras in which they played. Yastrzemski's greatest seasons came during the offensively-suppressed 1960s and '70s, while many of Ortiz's best years came when offense was booming in the mid and late 2000s, before the recent downturn for hitters. Thus, Yastrzemski's career adjusted OPS of 130 (134 through age 38) isn't that far off from Ortiz's 139 mark (and, don't forget, was maintained for thousands of more at-bats). Similarly, his .375 wOBA is not dwarfed by Ortiz's .390, but is rather quite comparable.

Also don't forget that Ortiz had Manny Ramirez hitting behind or in front of him during his best seasons. Yaz was surrounded by his fair share of talent, especially during the second half of his career, but never a hitter of Manny's quality (Jim Rice was great, but not quite on Manny's level). Yastrzemski's supporting cast was especially weak during his peak seasons, when Boston's biggest threat besides Yaz was Reggie Smith. Another good player, but no Manny.

But if these past two MVP debates between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have taught us anything, it's that there's more to baseball than hitting. With 168 stolen bases, Yastrzemski holds a clear edge on the bases compared to Ortiz, who's managed a meager 15. Yaz was a good baserunner in his younger days and basically broke even for his career in terms of added value there, whereas Ortiz has always been a liability because of his size and lack of foot speed. That closes the gap some.

Then there's defense, which puts Yaz way over the top. A seven-time Gold Glover, Yaz learned to play the Green Monster to perfection and earned a reputation as one of the best defensive outfielders of all-time. In his heyday Yaz was like a young Barry Bonds, a complete package capable of winning ballgames with his bat, legs, and glove. Ortiz, a full-time DH, has only ever been able to win games with the lumber. He almost never plays the field and adds no value via defensive contributions. He can barely play first base competently, let alone one of the trickiest outfields the majors.

So whatever edge one grants to Ortiz for his hitting, a bigger edge must be given to Yastrzemski to account for his better baserunning and superlative defense. According to Baseball-Reference, Yaz had one 12-win season (his MVP/Triple Crown year in 1967, of course), one 10-win season (1968--The Year of the Pitcher) and a nine-win season (in 1970). Ortiz has had one season--2007--where he was worth more than six, and zero where he was worth over seven. Yastrzemski compiled nearly 100 WAR (B-R and FanGraphs) in his Hall of Fame career; Ortiz will be lucky if he gets to 50. Even if you gave Ortiz as many plate appearances as Yastrzemski, there would still be no question as to which one was more valuable.

For one at-bat, I'd take Ortiz. But for an entire game, season, career, what have you, it's gotta be Yastrzemski.

Way to Go, Wright

Wright's achieved a lot in the ten years since his first game (BleacherNation)
Yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of David Wright's major league debut (the Mets lost, of course). So in honor of the Mets' 31 year-old third baseman, here are ten of his most impressive accomplishments:

1--Wright's ranking in Mets franchise history in RBI, hits, doubles, total bases, walks, runs scored, sacrifice flies, times on base, extra base hits, runs created, and strikeouts. They call him Mr. Met for a reason, you know.

2--Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers Wright has won. Wright received both in 2007 and 2008.

3--NL Player of the Week awards; one in 2005, another in 2006 and his most recent in 2011. Also the number of times he's stolen more than 20 bases in a season.

4--Winning teams Wright has played for. Also the number of times he's finished in the top-ten of the NL MVP voting.

5--The number worn by Wright on the back of his jersey (great number, by the way). Also the number of All-Star Games in which he's been National League's starting third baseman.

6--Seasons with at least 20 home runs for Wright, who's currently sitting on 230 for his career.

7--All-Star selections. Wright made the NL squad every year from 2006 through 2010, then again in 2012 and 2013. Also the number of times he's hit better than .300 in a season.

8--Seasons with an OPS over .850/OPS+ over 120.

9--Wright's rank among active players in Power-Speed #. On a related note, also the number of consecutive seasons (not including this one) where Wright's recorded at least 10 homers and 10 steals.

10--Postseason games, all in 2006 when the Mets took the eventual World Series champion Cardinals to the brink in the NLCS. Don't ask Mets fans (or Carlos Beltran) how that one turned out.

Boston Blasts Blue Jays

Papi paced Boston's big win with a pair of two-run homers (Boston Globe)
For the first time this summer, it feels good to be a Red Sox fan. Not only have they won eight of their past nine to climb out of last place (however temporarily), but they’ve outscored their opponents 22-2 over their last three games. The pitching’s been untouchable and the offense, sparked by rookie call-ups such as Christian Vazquez and Mookie Betts, has finally come around. After a listless half of baseball, the Red Sox seem to be kicking it into high gear with the threat of a possible trade deadline roster shakeup hanging over their heads.

After sweeping Kansas City at home over the weekend, the defending champs kicked off their ten-game road trip in Toronto with a smashing 14-1 victory. A season’s worth of frustrations came pouring out at the Rogers Centre last night as the Red Sox steamrolled the Blue Jays in what was easily the former's most convincing win of the season. 

The floodgates opened after a scoreless first inning with Boston grabbing a quick 2-0 lead in the second behind run-scoring singles from Stephen Drew and Vazquez. In the third they strung together five two-out hits, the last an RBI double by Jackie Bradley, Jr. that chased Toronto starter Drew Hutchison from the game. The Blue Jays got one back in the bottom half of the frame with consecutive doubles from Erik Kratz and Juan Francisco, but John Lackey settled down to induce three straight groundouts, the last two of which were hit right back to him for easy outs.

The Red Sox continued their onslaught in the fourth against Brad Mills, who was brought in to put out the fire but instead proceeded to toss gasoline all over it. With Brock Holt on second via a leadoff double, David Ortiz took Mills deep for the 452nd home run of his career, tying another legendary Red Sox hitter by the name of Carl Yastrzemski (you may have heard of him) on the all-time list.

Big Papi, who has more home runs at the Rogers Centre than any active player besides Alex Rodriguez, would pass Yaz his next time up, drilling another two-run shot off Mills (again with Holt on base) the very next inning. By that point Boston's lead had swelled to 13-1, and they still weren't done. Mike Napoli followed up Ortiz's blast with one of his own, forcing John Gibbons to mercifully remove Mills from the game. Mills' stat line: seven hits (including three homers) and eight earned runs in two ugly innings. Poor Mills couldn’t catch a break; the Red Sox feasted on his fastball, pounding his every mistake like it was batting practice.

Boston battered Toronto pitching for a season-high 14 runs and 18 hits, four of which cleared the fences and four more landed for doubles. Napoli, Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts all went 3-for-5 while Holt, Ortiz, Bradley, and Stephen Drew recorded two hits apiece (Vazquez had the other and Dustin Pedroia/Jonny Gomes combined to go 0-for-5 out of the two-hole). Yes, even the slumping Stephen Drew got in on the action, slugging his third home run of the season and first since the Fourth of July.

Oh, and did I mention that John Lackey was wonderful? Pitchers are always forgotten in slugfests such as these, but Lackey was truly terrific in his first start of the second half. Goofy run support aside, Lackey earned his 11th win of the season by going seven innings, allowing only one run and two Blue Jays to reach base (the back-to-back doubles by Kratz and Francisco). With no walks and only 76 pitches through six, he likely would have gone the distance had the score not been so lopsided.

Boston will look to make it nine out of ten tonight with Jake Peavy, who could desperately use a win, on the mound. The Blue Jays, 13-25 since June 7th, will try to stop their skid with J.A. Happ on the hill. Happ, a lefty with an ERA just under five, has to be an inviting target for the Sox, who've hit considerably better against southpaws with a .714 OPS against them compared to .698 versus righties. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Streaking Sox Sweep Royals

With their 8-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 8th, the Boston Red Sox hit rock bottom. They'd dropped seven of their last eight games, all at home, to fall 12 games below .500 and 10.5 games out of first. They were last-place in the AL East. They were dead.

Except that they weren't. They salvaged their miserable homestand in thrilling fashion with a [air of walkoff wins against Chicago. Then they traveled to Houston and closed out the first half by taking two of three from the Astros, the last of which was their most convincing victory of the season--an 11-0 romp.. Following the All-Star Break, they returned home for a three-game set with Kansas City and took all three for their first sweep at Fenway in over a month. And just like that, well, maybe the Red Sox weren't dead after all.

With their sweep of the Royals, the Sox have now won seven of their last eight games. It hasn't been enough to climb out of the AL East basement, where Boston's still mired in last place, but at least it's closed the gap for first place to 7.5 games. That's still a sizable deficit, but significantly smaller and easier to overcome than a double digit one.

More importantly, with five straight wins at Fenway the Sox now have a .500 record at home, something they haven't been able to say for much of the year. There were those two walk-offs against the White Sox, of course, followed by the three-game sweep of Kansas City. Boston beat KC 5-4 in Friday's series opener, overcoming a 4-1 deficit with a four-run rally in the sixth inning, a comeback keyed by two-run homers from Xander Bogaerts and Jonny Gomes. With Clay Buchholz gone, four Red Sox relievers made the lead stand up.

Saturday's game was a classic pitcher's duel between Danny Duffy and Rubby De La Rosa, both of whom have pitched surprisingly well this year and with almost identical levels of success (Duffy's ERA after the game was 2.66, just a smidge worse than De La Rosa's 2.64). Once again it was the Royals who took the early lead, only to watch the Red Sox fight back and win with a six-inning deathblow. This time it was Mike Napoli snapping a 1-1 tie with a majestic home run--his 11th of the season--over the Green Monster. Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara kept Kansas City at bay to preserve the lead and De La Rosa's third win of the season.

Sunday's series finale was all-Boston. The Sox scored early and often, hanging six runs on young Yordano Ventura through four. He was gone after one out in the bottom of the fifth, leaving a bases loaded mess for Francisley Bueno to clean up (which he did). That was more than enough for Jon Lester, who dominated the Royals with eight shutout innings. The All-Star lefty was in top form, permitting just four hits (three singles) and two walks while striking out eight. Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the Royals 1-2-3 in the ninth to finish off the shutout and the sweep.

The Red Sox will be back on the road this week, first in Toronto against the scuffling Blue Jays and then in Tampa to take on the red-hot Rays. By playing well against both Boston could improve its position in the standings and potentially gain some ground on the first place Orioles. John Lackey will look to put his recent woes behind him in first start of the second half tomorrow night.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Red Sox Pitching First Half Review 2014

It's really too bad the Red Sox haven't been able to hit a lick this year, because even if they were an average offensive team they'd probably be leading the AL East right now thanks to their stellar pitching.

This is the rarest of Red Sox teams in that their pitching's been pretty good, but their lineup has stunk to high heaven (reflected in the fact that both their All-Stars were hurlers). The staff as a whole has the fourth-best ERA in the American League--not too shabby for a team playing half its games at Fenway--and the circuit's fifth-most strikeouts. Jon Lester and John Lackey have formed a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, Jake Peavy hsn't been nearly as bad as his 1-8 record suggests, and Clay Buchholz seems to be rounding into form. For the most part the bullpen has been fantastic, none better than a certain Japanese closer pictured above.

Here's my take on some of the key Red Sox pitchers this year along with their first half grades in parentheses:

SP Jon Lester (A+)
Lester's postseason success seems to have carried over into the regular season, which is shaping up to be the best of his career (in a contract year, no less). His 2.65 ERA is a full run lower than his career 3.66 mark and his 2.61 FIP means it's no fluke. The 30 year-old has reversed four straight years of declining strikeout rates by fanning more than a batter per inning for the first time since 2010. With 134 K's he's already more than three quarters of the way to last year's total of 177. He's showed better command of the strike zone as well, slashing his walk rate to a career-low 2.0 BB/9, which in concert with his improved K rate has resulted in a 4.62 K/BB ratio (it was 2.56 from 2010 through 2013). Lester's also limited his mistakes and thus the long ball, posting the lowest home run rate of his career. Mix it all together and Lester's been one of the ten best pitchers in the American League this year, a worthy All-Star and Cy Young candidate with an ERA 35 percent better than the average pitcher after adjustments for league and park. Lester's going to get paid this offseason, but will the Red Sox be the ones footing the bill?

SP John Lackey (B+)
Lackey's strong first half proved that last year's unexpected return to form was no fluke. The 35 year-old has been terrific in his fifth season with the Sox, compiling a 3.79 ERA, 3.53 FIP and 3.89 K/BB ratio in his 123 and a-third innings. He didn't miss a start, which could explain why he faded at the end of the first half. His ERA ballooned from 2.96 on June 22nd to 3.79 by the break as he got beaten around by the Mariners, Yankees in Orioles in three successive starts. Though he earned the win, Lackey labored through his final start of the half against a weak Astros lineup, walking five and needing 117 pitches to get through six innings. Hopefully the break will help him recharge and get back on track.

SP Clay Buchholz (D-)
The ace of Boston's staff last year has been their least effective starter this year. True to form, Buchholz landed on the Disabled List in late May with a hyperextended left knee and missed a full month. At the time he had a 7.02 ERA, much like how he had an equally disgusting 7.19 ERA at the end of May in 2012. Buchholz pitched much better over the final four months of that season, trimming his ERA to 4.22 by the end of September before the Yankees shelled him in his final start of the year. A similar turnaround appears to be underway this year, with his four starts since coming off the DL producing much better results. His pre-and post-DL splits couldn't be more night and day:

Through May 26th: 7.02 ERA 1.98 WHIP .339/.403/.502 .384 BABiP 63% strikes 7% swinging strikes
Since May 26th: 2.73 ERA 0.71 WHIP .197/.215/.356  .197 BABiP 67% strikes 12% swinging strikes

Buchholz has returned to form since returning from the DL, striking out 23 against one lone walk in 29 and two-thirds innings of 2.73 ERA-ball. His most recent turn was easily his best of the season, a complete game three-hit shutout in Houston where he whiffed 12 Astros and walked none. Expect Buchholz to continue his run of success in the second half.

SP Jake Peavy (D+)
Poor Peavy. I really don't have anything else to add.

SP Felix Doubront (F)
Doubront was really struggling before going on the DL with a strained left (throwing) shoulder. Rather than continue to improve as he did last year, he appeared to be taking a major step back. In two of his ten starts he couldn't even make it out of the third inning, and in two others he failed to finish the fifth. After spending a month on the Disabled List he has been removed from the starting rotation, though his bullpen adventures have been just as difficult. His 5.06 ERA in three appearances out of the 'pen is only marginally better than his 5.19 ERA as a starter this season. What's even more frustrating is that Doubront showed for a long time last year that he could pitch well at the major league level. It's clear that he's broken, but can he be fixed? Hopefully once he adapts to his relief role he'll be able to regain his confidence.

SP Brandon Workman (D)
Workman was used primarily as a reliever last year, his first in the majors, but has since transitioned to a starter in his sophomore campaign. He made the Opening Day roster and pitched well in his three relief appearances early in the season, but was demoted to Pawtucket to gain more experience as a starting pitcher. Though he fared terribly with a 5.36 ERA in eight starts, the seasoning proved worthwhile when he was recalled in late May to replace Doubront in the rotation. The 25 year-old has been merely serviceable in that role with a 4.50 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 1.89 K/BB ratio in his eight starts this year. That's fine for a fifth starter stand-in.

SP Rubby De La Rosa (A-)
De La Rosa, who you might recall came over from the Dodgers in Boston's infamous roster purge two summers ago, pitched sparingly for the Sox last year, making 11 relief appearances and zero starts in the final two months of the season. He failed to distinguish himself in Triple-A (4.26 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) and during his cup of coffee, yielding 15 hits and seven earned runs in his 11 and a third innings of work.

This year has been a different story entirely for the 25 year-old. Though he began the season with Pawtucket, he was called up in late May when Buchholz made his annual trip to the Disabled List. His first start in a Red Sox uniform--versus the Rays at Fenway Park on May 31st--was a gem. De La Rosa twirled seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits (three of them singles) and no walks while striking out eight as Boston cruised to a 7-1 victory and sixth win in a row.

De La Rosa remained in the rotation until Buchholz returned in late June, delivering a pair of mediocre starts and a pair of great ones. He was demoted upon Buchholz's return, only to be summoned again a few weeks later with John Farrell needing a spot starter against the White Sox. De La Rosa didn't dazzle but pitched well enough (three earned runs in five innings) to keep Boston in the game, a game they eventually won. He takes a 2.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 4.13 K/BB ratio into the second half, albeit in the small sample size of 37 and a third innings. He's not this good, as his 3.75 FIP will tell you, but it's encouraging to see him performing so well as a starter, better than anyone could have possibly expected. Whether in the rotation or as a trade chip, De La Rosa should be provide some value going forward.

CL Koji Uehara (A+)
The Red Sox don't take leads late into games very often, but when they do they can be sure that those leads are safe in the hands of Uehara. As expected, Uehara has come back to earth a bit following his fantastic and historic 2013, but he's still been one of the best closers in the game hands-down. In addition to converting 18 of his 20 save chances, the first-time All-Star owns a 57/6 K/BB ratio, 1.65 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. He's ran into some hiccups over the past three weeks or so, with both his blown saves coming in that time as his ERA has jumped from a microscopic 0.57 on June 17th to 1.65 at the break. As much as it pains me to say it, the Red Sox must trade their 39 year-old star closer, a free agent at season's end. More on that to come.

Rest of the 'pen: Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa have all been outstanding. Free agent addition Edward Mujica has been the opposite of that, as has Craig Breslow. Chris Capuano, another free agent signing, also struggled mightily and was DFA'd because of it along with Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski.