Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Stint on the DL or The 2012 Red Sox Thus Far

A really expensive lawn
I spent time on the 15-day spectator disabled list before the All-Star break. It was after the Yankees beat the Sox, on Fenway's official 100th birthday. Everybody was injured, the Sox had negative wins at the point, and in the course of the game, I strained my right oblique giveafuck. It could have been a lot worse. You tear one of those things and its either surgery or learn about golf and stare hollow-eyed and bourbon-filled at people taking really long walks on really expensive lawns. But after a few weeks of rest and recuperation, a couple of rehab starts in Wimbeldon and the Tour de France, I came back in time to watch the pitching staff begin to get it together. (Except for Jon Lester, which is like, I don't know, Moses forgetting how to read right after getting the tablets.)

What frustrates me the most about this team is that because of injuries we really know nothing about it. How has Bobby Valentine been as a manager? I don't know, he's had the JV team on the field the whole season. Have the Red Sox recovered from last year's collapse? I don't know, they've had the JV team on the field the whole time. Did they make good decisions in the off-season? I don't know....well, you get it. As it stands now, they have played one game with the team they expected to field, and though they won that game, David Ortiz injured his heel rounding second on an Adrian Gonzalez homerun. To reiterate so everyone really understands, the Red Sox 2012 MVP was injured on the exact game when the Varsity team played together for the first time. Can you blame Papi for suspecting a curse? But even with all the questions left unanswered by the plague of injuries, I still think there are things we can learn from the 2012 Red Sox thus far.

Yeah, definitely the change up
John Farrell and Jason Varitek Mattered. Somehow, the pitching staff got off to a slower start this year than last year and though it looks like Beckett, Buchholz and the pen have figured it out, and the Sox have gotten some pleasant surprises from Doubront and Morales, it's clear this staff is not as good as it was when Farrell was coaching and Tek was catching. This hasn't affected just game by game and pitch by pitch decisions, but the entire process of professional pitching, from pre-season preparation to closing out big games in September. In other words, after pre-season, the Red Sox without Farrell and Varitek have been less prepared to perform. And when pitchers have struggled, it has taken them longer to solve their struggles. I wonder if the conversion of Bard would have been more successful (or even happened) with those two around. As we've seen over the last couple of months, this isn't a catastrophe, it's just a change, but it makes me wonder how quickly we can bring those two back in some coaching capacity.

The Red Sox Win at Scouting. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Kevin Youkilis, John Lester, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Ryan Lavarnway, Will Middlebrooks and Jonathan Papelbon, were all drafted by the Red Sox. Daniel Nava, Felix Doubrount, and Pedro Ciriaco were all signed out of minor leagues. One of the reasons the Sox are still in the playoff hunt at the moment is they've had enough young talent in the minors to keep pace in the American league. Most other teams would already be out of it. At one point, the Rockies couldn't even field a five-man pitching rotation. Looking at that list does raise an interesting question; how important was Theo Epstein? In that list of draftees there's an MVP and two MVP runner ups, a Cy Young finalist, and the Red Sox all-time leader in saves. It would take a lot more research and analysis than I'm willing to put in for a blog post, but there's a chance, rather than being a baseball business genius, Theo Epstein was just in the right place at the right time.

Red Sox Management Will Lose Sleep Over the Extra Wild Card Spot. As the trade deadline approaches the Red Sox have the unenviable position of having no clear evidence of what to do. They're not so far out of the playoff picture to be sellers at the moment, but even if they make the playoffs, at this point they haven't shown any ability to go very deep in them, so they're not necessarily buyers either. And what would they buy anyway? They're not going to replace a quality Jon Lester in any kind of reasonable trade. The outfield is already pretty crowded, they've got two quality catchers, and a possible future super-star in Pawtucket at that position, and Will Middlebrooks, and Pedro Ciriaco have added depth to infield. The problem is not that they're not hitting at all, but that they're not getting clutch hits, which means there's no guarantee any big bat they might bring in, will actually solve the problem. If that extra Wild Card spot wasn't there, the Sox would probably be sellers at this point, and could be laying the negotiating ground work for rebuilding the team for next couple of seasons. But with it, well, who knows what they should do.

Of course, they still could be sellers by the trade deadline. They've struggled the last week and a half, and have fallen below .500 again. They get three games with the Yankees who were already killing everybody and then they get Detroit. There is every possibility they'll be essentially out of it by next week. But that still makes for hasty deals. In a very strange bit of baseball business, it might make the most sense for a team under .500, in a major market, after a devastating close to last season, to stand pat at the trade deadline. Not a very fun seat for Mr. Cherrington to sit in.

Or, they could get the Varsity team back again in the next two weeks, Jon Lester could figure it out and they could go on a tear through August, September and October, that gets them deep into the playoffs. There's no reason to bet on that, but there's also no reason to assume that's impossible.

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