Sunday, October 27, 2013

Red Sox fans should blame Farrell, not umpires

As my regular readers know, I am a Red Sox fan. Many of my posts are from a Red Sox viewpoint, so while I often try to remain objective (unbiased is the wrong word - all commentary should have a bias), that viewpoint is important to keep in mind. So, with that in mind...

I obviously have thoughts on last night's game. About 10 minutes after, when it became clear that the call was correct* it was that the only thing worse than losing a game on a bad call is losing on a good one. In hockey and basketball there is often a mentality of "let the teams play," meaning that the calls should only be on egregious fouls rather than decided by officials. Baseball isn't like that. Every play has a call, even if it isn't necessarily a close call. Hit a routine ground out to the shortstop? The first base umpire still calls you out. When your favorite team loses on a bad call, there is an outlet for the frustration. "Those stupid umpires blew it for us!" When it's the right call, though? All you can do is shake your head and find other outlets for the frustration. In this case, Red Sox manager John Farrell left us with plenty.

*There's really no debate about this. Middlebrooks was in the base path. If you are one of the many people who has posted the picture of a clear baseline on facebook or another social media outlet, stop it. The baseline is not the base path, and if you played little league baseball or have watched more than a half-dozen games in your life, YOU KNOW THAT. Complaining about the umpires is a big reason why people hate Red Sox fans. You're contributing to people hating me, so stop it.

John Farrell's night last night was almost a complete disaster. He started the game out decently, finally giving Daniel Nava a start over Jonny Gomes' winning enthusiasm. I like Gomes and all, but the Red Sox were beating right-handed pitching in spite of him, not because of him. Nava was one of the best hitters against right-handed pitching in baseball in 2013, and he wasn't allowed to play against them in the playoffs, and it put the team's chances in peril. On Saturday, Nava got the start and excelled. It was unsurprising.

The wheels started to come off of the Farrell managerial machine in the late innings. There has been some talk about the decision to replace Stephen Drew with Will Middlebrooks - Middlebrooks went 0 for 2, an infield hit to Bogaerts likely would've been an out if Drew was there, Adams' double might have been an out with Bogaerts at third, and, of course, the final play of the game. To me, though, that's criticizing the result more than the decision. Drew looked lost at the plate, and Middlebrooks gained a platoon advantage at a time it was needed. The risk was obvious in the move, but the potential reward made it a sensible move.

The mistake came when it came to Brandon Workman. When he entered the game, he came in the #9 spot in the lineup- due up second in the top of the ninth inning. Farrell could have double-switched David Ross into that spot, giving the team a defensive upgrade and a short-term offensive one - if Saltalamachhia's spot comes up again, either the Red Sox had a big inning, or they'd gotten into extras. Farrell didn't do that, leaving Workman's spot in the lineup.

That would have been defensible, if - IF - Farrell's plan all along was to bat Napoli in the ninth inning for Workman. No reason, after all, to burn the backup catcher when there's an even better offensive upgrade to be made. But Farrell did not do that. He let Brandon Workman bat in the ninth inning of a tie game of the World Series.

Read that last sentence again.

With one out and nobody on in the ninth inning of the World Series, John Farrell sent up his pitcher to hit. And it wasn't his shutdown reliever Koji Uehara, it was set-up man, fourth-guy-out-of-the-pen Brandon Workman. Okay.

So Workman strikes out, of course, because it's the first time he's had a bat in his hands since 2008 and the pitcher throws 100. Workman comes back out for the ninth, he pitches to only two batters! The guy so indispensable that he couldn't be removed for a pinch hitter who is the second-best power hitter on the entire team was taken out after two batters!

Let's take a little trip down memory lane. Remember 2003? The Red Sox were leading Game 7 of the ALCS. Grady Little left a gassed Pedro Martinez in to lose the lead. The move led to Pedro Martinez getting fired.

How about 1986? Bill Buckner remained in the game instead of Dave Stapleton, a superior defensive player. It took 18 months, but John McNamara got fired. In Lou Gorman's book One Pitch From Glory, he makes it clear that Jean Yawkey had wanted to fire McNamara immediately after the series.

Farrell's managing last night was much, much worse than either of those managing blunders. Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of his time - Little trusted him too much to get out of a jam. It was a mistake, but when it was made, everyone rooting for Boston wasn't saying - "boy, that was dumb." We were rooting for Martinez to make it through, because he was all of our favorite pitcher. We were scared it was a mistake, but not convinced of it.

I was too young to remember Buckner in 1986, but beyond McNamara infamously wanting him to be on the field to celebrate, Buckner was the superior hitter to Stapleton. Leaving him in the game may have had some logic in it.

Last night, though? Leaving Workman hit, even though Uehara was ready to come in and Workman was only going to pitch to two more batters? It's not second-guessing to call that foolish - it was obviously nuts at the time. It was - at the risk of exaggerating - the worst mistake I can remember a manager making. John Farrell clearly does a good job with game preparation, and the team plays hard for him. But game strategy is important, and like Ron Washington and Texas, Farrell is bad at it. It's crazy to think about after this years turn-around, but if he doesn't improve on his tactics, it will be a short stint in the Red Sox dugout.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My morning with Pearl Jam and Alice

Lightning Bolt, the new Pearl Jam record, was in my mailbox when I arrived home last night. I was able to listen to it, with Alice in my arms. Without being overly trite, it was pretty moving listening to the band that I grew up with while holding my daughter.

I was thinking of doing a review, and I may down the road, but I'm not sure I'll say anything that won't be said better by others. The short of it basically boils down to this - if you like Pearl Jam, you'll like the record. If you don't, or if you're one of those people turned off by Eddie Vedder's vocal affectations, you probably won't. Needless to say, I liked it quite a bit.

A final thought. Many people try to review music (and all other art) objectively, and there is a value in that, but music is also meant to provoke an emotional response. It is impossible to experience the art of a favorite artist without the emotional connection to all of the existing work. The Pearl Jam record is consistent with their growth as artists over the 22 years since Ten was released, and Lightning Bolt fits perfectly in their discography. 

I am seeing them live in Worcester tonight. Two tracks from the album I hope to hear are "Getaway" - the opener, which they have yet to perform live - and "Pendulum." I also would love to hear "Speed of Sound," a standout from their last record that they've only performed four times. They played it this past Friday in Pittsburgh, but here's hoping.

And here's hoping I'm around in 32 years to listen to whatever band Alice grows up with. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

10/4/13 playoff marathon liveblog!

12:55: Four games today. Over/under on time of games? 13:30?

12:57: Gerrit Cole is getting the start for Pittsburgh. Two notes about this. One, I'll always have a soft spot for Cole, because I saw his major league debut on TV in a bar in Monterey, CA, as part of one of the best vacations I've ever taken. Second, Cole deserves the full-on phenom treatment. Maybe we have phenom burnout? I dunno, but Cole is really, really good.

12:58: Chris Carpenter with the ceremonial first pitch. I can't remember another time with a technically active player throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

1:02: Bob Costas calling a playoff game!!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Francisco Liriano, fellow outcasts, lead Pirates to NLDS

I had a quick post last week about how the Red Sox having quality players at every position was the biggest reason for their success. The Pirates have been successful this year because of depth as well. They have a legitimate MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, one of the current great players in the game, but they have gotten contributions from several players this year. What is amazing is that so many of these players weren't valuable at all a year ago.  Unlike the Red Sox, who got bounce-back contributions from players who were hurt or underused in 2012 like Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, the Pirates have gotten help from players who simply were bad

Check out the production of these players last season:

-Russell Martin: .211/.311/.403, 24% CS, 1.8 WAR in 2012 (w/ NYY); .226/.327/.377, 40% CS, 4.3 WAR in 2013
-Mark Melancon: 45.0 IP, 6.20 ERA, 1.267 WHIP, 3.42 K/BB, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ BOS); 71.0 IP 1.39 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 8.75 K/BB, 2.0 WAR in 2013
-Marlon Byrd: .210/.243/.245, 1 HR in 153 PA, -0.5 WAR in 2012 (w/ CHC/BOS); .318/.357/.486, 3 HR in 107 PA, 1.0 WAR (after posting a 4.0 WAR w/ NYM through mid-August)
-Vin Mazzaro: 44.0 IP, 5.73 ERA, 1.682 WHIP, 1.37 K/BB, -0.2 WAR in 2012 (w/ KC);  73.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 2.19 K/BB, 0.9 WHIP in 2013
-Francisco Liriano: 134.1 IP, 5.09 ERA, 5.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9 1.468 WHIP, -0.1 WAR in 2012 (w/ MIN/CHA); 161 IP, 3.02 ERA, 3.5 BB/9. 0.5 HR/9, 1.224 WHIP, 3.0 WAR in 2013

I know WAR is a bit reductionist, but I think it tells the correct story here - those five players produced 0.5 WAR for their teams in 2013 (the last four producing a combined -1.3). In 2013? 11.2, and 15.2 overall when including Byrd's time with the Mets. Did the Pirates get lucky or buy low? A little bit of both, it looks like. Melancon isn't this good, for example, but he was part of a generous package the team got in exchange for Joel Hanrahan, who was a complete bust with Boston. A rebound was to be expected, but not to this level. Same with Liriano. He was bad in 2012, but his home run rate was out of proportion with what he'd given up in the past. I'm guessing that Neil Huntington noticed that his HR/FB rate was 12.9% in 2012, while it was closer to 10% for his career - and the gamble paid off, as it was only 8.3% in 2013. Vin Mazzaro's career ERA is 33 points higher because of a single disastrous performance in 2011

Without getting ahead of myself, it's probably worth noting that the Pirates shouldn't expect the same production from this group next year. But so what? It's not like they have big, long-term contracts. The Pirates, on a limited budget, astutely filled in a roster of buy-low extras, and a lot of them came through. It's a sensible blueprint for a fringe team looking to sneak into the playoffs.