Tag Archives: Boston

Series with Dodgers On Deck

Bold Series Predictions: The Sox are going to find a way to take 2 of 3 from the Dodgers in this weekend’s series, Xander Bogaerts will get his first career hit against Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Dennis Eckersley will set a new personal record by saying “cheese” 50+ times in a single broadcast.

Why: The Dodgers are unquestionably the hottest team in baseball, and even though Boston just finished up winning a three-game set against the Giants, they are still just .500 in the month of August. So why will the Sox win this series? For starters, the Sox have three of their best starters going; Lackey takes the hill Friday, Lester on Saturday and Peavy gets to face-off against his old NL West rivals on Sunday Night Baseball. Also helping Boston’s cause is the fact that they will miss two of LA’s best starters in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Xander Bogaerts played in two of the games against the Giants this week, but he only started in one of those games and he did not start against struggling left-hander Barry Zito. This hints that John Farrell is trying his best to ease the 20-year-old phenom into playing time. Since Stephen Drew hit a bomb in Boston’s series-clinching win against the Giants, it wouldn’t surprise me at all for him to start against right-hander Ricky Nolasco in the series opener on Friday. However, I do think that Bogaerts will start against the left-hander Ryu because of Drew’s struggles against south paws this year. I also think that Bogaerts is due for a hit. Besides believing that he is due, I don’t really have a good reason to think he will get his first hit in that game. I guess my Spidey Senses are just tingling.

Pictured: Dennis Eckersley thinking about a nice slice of Cheddar Cheese. Probably.

The last of my predictions is also the easiest to make. Dennis Eckersley has given it his all trying to spice things up in the absence of Jerry Remy. Most notably, he has made it abundantly clear to his audience that he will never call a fastball by its true name. In fact, he may never call any pitch by its true name. Instead, he likes to talk about “cheese,” and “gas.” You can count me as one of those in complete support of his hilarious lexicon.

The Red Sox will be glad to have a day off before heading to LA, but I cannot wait for this three game set to begin. It should be a fun weekend of baseball, folks.

The Red Sox’ Key to Victori[no] in 2013

I just watched Shane Victorino hit his 8th HR in the 3rd inning of a fixture against the Giants (shout out to all dem Barclays Premiere League fans), and it inspired me to write a quick post about him. Also, if that home run wasn’t enough reason to write about him, his walk up song is “Three Little Birds.” That’s so much fun. My god that’s a lot of fun.

Anyway, on a more serious note, Victorino has been one of the most important pieces to the Red Sox’ resurgence this season. Some found the Victorino signing as a bit of a head scratching move by the front office (along with the Napoli signing, which our newest member just did a fantastic job analyzing).

However, Victorino has been one of Boston’s most important players, and a lot of his value comes from his defense. According to fangraphs, he has already posted an 18.4 UZR, which is good for 3rd in all of baseball, and 1st among right fielders. Although the defense wasn’t the Sox’ biggest problem last season, they managed to improve from 13th to 4th in the Right Field position from 2012 to 2013 (according to UZR). That, again, is thanks to Shane’s speedy legs.

Although Victornio has been middle of the pack in terms of his offensive production, his bat has not hurt the Red Sox (102 wRC+). Just like he has provided stability in the outfield, he has been a rock while hitting 2nd in the lineup. He provides good speed and a solid .336 OBP which sets the table for the big bats that follow.

Most importantly, Victorino has been extremely important to Boston’s turn around in terms of dollar value. According to Fangraphs, Victorino would have been worth $18.3 MM on the open market thus far in 2013. Projecting that out for the rest of the season, Victorino should be worth about $21.3 MM by the end of the year. That’s already more than half of the 3-year, $39 MM contract the front office gave him in the offseason. Before this year, many felt that his contract was a dumb move by the Red Sox, but it thus far he has been a steal for Boston. It was clear after the fire sale last year that the front office needed to be better when handing out big money, and with Victorino they have definitely been much smarter.

In conclusion, this is my message to you-oo oo: lets appreciate the work that the Flyin’ Hawaiian has done this season, and recognize that he’s been one of the most important reasons that Boston is still leading in the AL East.

Would the Real John Lackey Please Stand Up?

John Lackey’s success this year has been one of many feel-good stories for the 2013 Boston Red Sox. Lackey has been one of the best Red Sox starters this year by almost any measure, making him a surprising anchor for a rotation that includes Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster.

But is the 2013 version of Lackey just a mirage, or is he going to continue to pitch like the player the Red Sox wanted when they signed him to a 5 year, $82.5 million contract (per baseball-reference.com)? Let’s take a closer look at his numbers to this point and see if we can figure out what we can expect from him moving forward.

To begin, Lackey has been the best Sox starter by a handful of different measures. Lackey has had the best command of any starter for the Red Sox this year. In fact, he is 6th in the American League in K/BB ratio, ahead of such players as Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander. He is T-2nd on the team in terms of fWAR, and perhaps most importantly, he leads the team in xFIP. This is the first indicator that his 2.95 ERA is a fairly good estimate of his overall performance, and it also predicts more success for him through the rest of the season.

Now, one might assume that half a season is not a big enough sample size to understand Lackey’s future, and one might also make the argument that his numbers this year have been due to luck rather than skill. However, there are a couple reasons to believe that Lackey’s success is sustainable, and he might have turned a corner after two awful seasons, and another in which he didn’t pitch an inning, in Boston.

The first noticeable change in Lackey’s pitching is his pitch usage. According to PITCHf/x data, Lackey’s four seam fastball use has increased astronomically this year compared to his previous two full seasons. This year Lackey is using his four seamer 51.3% of the time, compared to 15.2% and 15.1% in 2010 and 2011, respectively. This surprising jump in fastball usage has come largely at the expense of his cutter. In 2010 Lackey used his cutter 41.9% of the time, and that number is down to 27% in 2013. Perhaps he is more confident in his fastball this season after having Tommy John surgery in 2011.

Lackey is also using his off-speed stuff with much less regularity this season as compared to his first two in Boston. He threw his 24.1% curveballs in 2010, but this year that number is down to 13.1%. Another change, one that might not be as easy to notice, was Lackey’s use of his change-up. In his last three years in LA, his average change-up use was 3%, but in his first two years in Boston that number jumped to 6.2% (including 7.8% in 2011). In 2013 he is only throwing the change 3.1% of the time.

So what are the results of Lackey’s change in pitch repertoire, and why have his changes led to his return to dominance? For starters, he has induced batters to swing-and-miss at a much higher rate. This year against Lackey, batter’s swinging strike percentage has increased by 2.5% from Lackey’s last two full seasons (up to 9.5% from 7.0% in 2010 & 2011). Lackey is also throwing more first-pitch strikes this year.

After such a dramatic about-face from what Red Sox fans had seen from Lackey in his first two years, it is only natural to be hesitant in believing that he will continue to play well. But given all the reasons stated above, it seems like this new John Lackey might really be here to stay. On top of all the reasons previously stated, his HR/FB rate (14.7%) this year suggests that he is not being helped by luck when it comes to fly balls making it out of the park. Lackey is also inducing more ground balls than ever before (50.8%), and his GB/FB rate is top 10 in the AL.

All told, it seems that the 2013 version of John Lackey (22.7 K% and a sub-3 ERA through 106.2 innings) might just be with us for the long haul. It would be easy to declare this drastic change — from a pitcher who’s career many had written off to a staff-ace for the AL East leading Red Sox — a shocking and unexpected turn of events, but it’s difficult to call anything about this team shocking, based on the surprises that have already happened this year.

The continued success of the Red Sox depends heavily on players like Lackey continuing to have surprisingly good years. The Sox’s rotation is in an especially delicate position with the nagging injury issues of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester’s continued struggles, so they need Lackey to continue to provide stability to their pitching staff. Luckily for the front office and fans, it doesn’t appear that the 2013 version of John Lackey is leaving anytime soon.

As a closing thought that doesn’t really have too much to do with this article except for the title, I leave you with this video. Please enjoy.

Red Sox Lose Last Two Before Break

The Red Sox wrapped up the first half of their season losing the last 2 games of a 3 game set with Oakland. Nevertheless, the series had some encouraging moments, and nobody East of New York will be complaining about Boston’s 58-39 record heading into the Break.

Things I liked: Even though Oakland took the last 2 games, there was a lot to like about the way the Sox played. For starters, John Lackey pitched 7 innings and racked up 5 Ks  while leading Boston to a 4-2 win in game 1.

I have been told to alert Mr. Lackey that the 2005-07 Angels called and they want their pitcher back. Seriously. What has gotten into this guy? The dude has a 2.78 ERA and a 3.27 xFIP through 100.1 innings pitched and he leads Red Sox starters with a 4.04 K/BB ratio. We shall discuss whether or not Mr. Lackey’s success to this point is sustainable in another post, but at the moment he is leading the Boston pitching staff in the absence of Clay Buchholz.

In game 2 of the series, Boston was brushed aside by Oakland’s AJ Griffin. Griffin pitched eight shutout innings and the he never really let Boston get into the game. However, Jon Lester produced an encouraging night in which he only allowed 3 runs (albeit on 3 walks and 6 hits, including Derek Norris’ 5th inning home run). For the Red Sox to build upon their unexpected play thus far they’re going to need Lester to figure out how to pitch like he did from 2008 to 2011.

Game 3 saw the Sox produce their third straight positive start. 24-year-old rookie Brandon Workman took a no-hitter into the 7th inning when Coco Crisp broke it up with a ground ball to Pedey. Two batters later, Josh Donaldson blasted his 16th home run which tied up the game at 2. Nonetheless, the Work-Man (wow, how bad is that nickname?!) pitched well enough for Boston to win, and if he keeps pitching like that he’s going to be a great asset for years to come.

Things I didn’t like so much: For a series against a potential playoff opponent in which Boston lost 2 of 3, the last three games didn’t give me a whole lot to complain about. The offense disappeared for all but two of the last 20 innings of the series, but we’ll just chalk that up to fatigue after a long first half and the fact that Boston faced Oakland’s two best starters (2.4 WAR for Colon and 1.5 for Griffin, per Fangraphs.com) in games 2 and 3.

Overall, I’m not going too far out on a limb by saying that Boston’s first half was a success. If you had told any member of Red Sox Nation at the start of the year that their boys would be 58-39 and 2.5 games up in the division at the All Star Break, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would have believed you. But, after 97 games that’s the case.

Moving forward, the Red Sox figure to be in the heart of the playoff race come September. Boston would love to win the East and at this point there’s no reason to believe that they can’t. But in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, in which 4/5 teams still have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs, it would be A-okay if the Sox can sneak into the postseason with a Wild Card birth. But hey, let’s not let that patented Red Sox-pessimism start sinking in just yet. This season has been a blast so far, so let’s keep enjoying it.

Red Sox take 3 of 4 from Seattle

The Red Sox wrapped up their series against the Mariners this afternoon winning 8-7 in 10 innings. It was important that the Sox at least manage to split this series following two disappointing games this weekend against the Angels. With the Rays winning their last eight, the Sox can’t afford to fall into a cold spell. After this series, Tampa is only 3.5 GB.

Things I liked: There was a lot to like about this series. Aside from a disappointing result in the first game — in which they only managed to score 2 runs off King Felix and 4 runs total — the Sox offense was red-hot. Boston hit seven HRs in the last three games of the series, including five bombs in the second game.

David Ortiz continued his scorching month of July (.438/.472/.875) racking up eight hits over the series. Papi had three doubles and two home runs to go along with his third stolen base of the season (LOL). Even more encouraging, it doesn’t seem like the big man is going to see too much regression going forward. He has continued his three-year trend of having a K-rate sitting at about 13% (below his career average of 17.9%)

Felix Doubront continued to pitch well, and over his last five starts he hasn’t given up more than two earned runs. Even more encouraging, his 3.91 ERA seems believable at this point. Fangraphs pegs his FIP at 3.63 and his xFIP at 3.92, so we shouldn’t expect Doubront to fall off from his current pace.

Things I didn’t like so much: Even though the they took 3/4, the pitching left a lot to be desired. Playing in a pitching-friendly Safeco the staff still managed to give up four, eight, four, and seven runs. Aside from Doubront’s start, the staff looked awful. Lester pitched poorly, Dempster gave up seven runs in 3.1 innings (only four earned) and Allen Webster continued to remind management that he isn’t big-league ready quite yet.

The bullpen pitched fine, but against better offensive teams in the long run the front office still needs to find a way to upgrade before the trade deadline.

Looking ahead: On the whole, this series washed most of the poor taste from last weekend’s debacle out of Red Sox Nation’s mouth. Flying to The Bay, the Sox have Lackey and then Lester slated to start the first two games.  It would be great if Boston could finish off the first half by taking the series against a solid Oakland squad, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if they only manage to take one of three.