Archive for Red Sox

The Currently Exploding Jackie Bradley, Jr.

It’s difficult to figure out where to start with Jackie Bradley Jr. You could start with his incredible defense, and actually that’s probably the right place to begin. You could look at this play, or this play, or this play, or if you have four minutes and 31 seconds you can watch some defensive highlights from 2014. Or just use Google. I’m sure you’ll come up with something good. That’s because Bradley is an exceptional outfielder. Someone with his defensive skills shouldn’t have to hit much to play regularly. “Not much” is still more than “none,” though, and it’s the difference between these two that has held Bradley back.

Bradley was called up four times in 2013, including at the beginning of the season to serve as the club’s starting left fielder. He hit .097/.263/.129 and was sent down as soon as the team got healthy enough to do so. He was called up three other times with varying degrees of failure, but the end result was a .617 OPS on the season. Even so, Bradley had hit at every level of the minors, including posting an .842 OPS for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013 in between trips to Boston. The team decided he would be their starting center fielder in 2014. And he was. And his defense was close to perfect. His hitting was also perfect — though only on opposite day. Now, though, he’s hitting on all the regular kinds of days, too.

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Luis Severino and Defining the Debut Adrenaline Effect

The first inning of a debut is a sweaty time. Just look at Henry Owens as he stepped to the mound for the first time in the big leagues this past week. Your heart strains for him — not only in sympathy, but also because it’s just so obvious that his blood is racing through his veins and his vision is blurry. You can almost feel it just watching him.


You can see plainly that that the major league debut was full of butterflies for Owens. And so it was for Luis Severino. Just in a different way than most.

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Pick Your Four Years

Every so often, someone asks where I got my start. My first online conversations about baseball took place on the ESPN message boards, and I’m a Mariners fan, and that was back when the Mariners mattered. Around the turn of the millennium, the Mariners were entering the best era in franchise history. Between 2000 – 2003, the Mariners racked up more regular-season wins than anybody else. They ultimately crashed, and crashed hard, but four strong teams were built. Four competitive teams were built. It was terrific, except for the thing that was missing. In 2003, the Marlins of all teams won that thing. There was much debate over what a fan really wants. Say what you will about the Marlins, but they’ve brought home a couple trophies.

Here, I ask you what some might consider a fundamental question. There’s a poll at the end of this, and I want you to try to answer honestly, as a fan who’s presumably something more than just a casual observer. I’m going to go ahead and update my Mariners and Marlins examples. There are current(ish) teams who can fill the same roles. We’re all more familiar with what’s current!

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Henry Owens to Debut in Boston

With Rick Porcello headed to the disabled list following a triceps injury, the Red Sox were in need of a starting pitcher for tonight’s start against the Yankees. Rather than turning to a Triple-A scrub to take Porcello’s spot in the rotation, the Sox opted to call up top prospect Henry Owens. Owens will take the mound in Yankee stadium tonight for his big league debut.

Owens, 22, has pitched exclusively at Triple-A Pawtucket this year, where he’s put up a 3.16 ERA and 3.68 FIP over 122 innings of work. The 6-foot-6 lefty has struck out 21% of the batters he’s faced, and has walked 11%. Other than Owens’ height, none of the figures cited above sound particularly impressive. Owens’ strikeout rate is hardly better than the International League average of 18.6%, and his walk rate is significantly worse than average. If you didn’t know any better, you might look at Owens’ 2015 stat line and conclude that he’s a fringe prospect.

Owens’ 2015 numbers may not be much to look at, but he performed markedly better in his first three seasons as a pro. In 2012, the year after the Red Sox took him 36th overall, Owens struck out 29% of opponent batters faced in Low-A. The next year, he whiffed 30% between High-A and Double-A in 2013. However, while the strikeouts were certainly encouraging, his 11% walk rate inflated his FIP to 3.61 over that span. Read the rest of this entry »

Pondering Another Big August Red Sox Trade

Three years ago, a struggling Red Sox team dumped a big part of their roster — and their payroll — on the Los Angeles Dodgers, shipping Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in exchange for a few prospects and a lot of financial relief. The deal freed up the team to reallocate a bunch of that money to free agents a few months later, and after hitting on signings like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, the team celebrated a World Series title in 2013.

Things have fallen apart again since, however, and last winter’s free agent spending spree looks like a total disaster at this point. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have combined for -1.8 WAR while pulling in $40 million between them, and there’s no way the team can go into 2016 with this same defensive alignment. Ramirez is clearly not an outfielder, and Sandoval has been a bit of disaster at third base this year as well, leading to speculation that one of the two may move to first base next year. And that probably is the path of least resistance, but as rumors percolated of Red Sox-Padres trade discussion before last week’s deadline, I started wondering if there wasn’t an August deal to be made that might actually make sense for both sides.

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Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Angels Pick Up Used But Functional Shane Victorino

The Angels find themselves in what you might term a familiar situation. They’re right in the thick of the race, like they’ve often been, and they’re run by the guys that used to run them, by which I mean Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia. Stoneman and Scioscia see eye-to-eye on a number of things, and there’s a certain type of player Scioscia used to love. Prime Shane Victorino would’ve been a phenomenal Angel. Alas, there is no more prime Shane Victorino; alas, even if there were, the Angels wouldn’t have had the players to trade for him. So what we have instead is a match, exchanging little for a post-prime Victorino who might have just enough left in the tank. The Red Sox save a little money, and they can dream on a utility player. The Angels get to see how much turbo remains in Victorino’s well-worn legs.

I was reading an article the other week, when I stumbled upon the following excerpt:

Stoneman was nowhere near as active on the trade front as Dipoto. His most significant July acquisition was reserve outfielder Alex Ochoa in 2002.

Stoneman says it only makes sense to swing a midseason trade if it’s worth it, which is one of those statements you don’t realize is empty until you think about it for a few seconds and the speaker walks away. The general point is that Stoneman isn’t one to panic in the face of midseason trends. Yet in the case of this Angels team, the need for outfield help has been such that no one could dismiss it. Something almost had to be done. Stoneman did it, at the cost of Josh Rutledge.

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Hanley Ramirez Defense Update Now!

Watching videos of Hanley Ramirez’s defense is a lot like using illegal drugs: a little bit is probably fine but too many will definitely kill you. Since taking over in left for the Red Sox this season, Ramirez has engendered strong opinions about his defensive abilities. To some, he’s horrible. Others say, no, he’s horrendous. Some others might point out that those are synonyms and the first two groups are being idiots anyway because Hanley is beyond horrendous and horrible and is, plainly, the worst. It is this third group of people who are correct.

He spent 11 seasons playing shortstop for two major-league teams. He’s an athlete. He has athlete skills. A free agent this past offseason, he explicitly wanted to come back to Boston, the team that signed him as a teenager, and to do so, he agreed to move to left field. With the exception of first base, probably, left is the least challenging of the defensive positions. Or rather, it’s not that it’s not challenging, it’s that mostly anyone who is decent enough to have played shortstop in the majors should be good at it. Should be. Except, in Hanley’s case, no. He’s not good. In fact, he’s bad. Very bad. But we don’t have to fall back on adverbs because this is FanGraphs and we have numbers!

The thing is, almost all of those numbers are big and start with a negative sign. It’s not like we’re debating the MVP here and Trout has 70,000 WAR and Cabrera has 69,999 WAR. The worst left fielder in baseball by UZR is Hanley at -15.2. The next worst is Chris Colabello at -9.1. The difference between Ramirez and Colabello is the difference between Colabello and Dalton Pompey, 13 guys up the list. Put another way, Ramirez has done as much damage to the Red Sox in left field (again, by UZR) as the second-worst left fielder and fourth-worst left fielder combined. If this were a good thing we’d say Ramirez was dominating the position, but it’s not so we can’t say that.

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Correa, Bogaerts and the Development of Power

The adage that power is the last tool to develop floats around every year when trying to explain why a certain prospect has or has not realized his raw power in game situations. When I first heard the idea, it made sense. A hitter’s power develops as he gets stronger getting into his early-to-mid-20s, and… that was enough for me. The problem with this concept is that many of these hitters whose power we expect to develop sometime in the future already have the ability, just not the means to use it regularly. It’s not, in other words, merely a matter of getting it done in the weight room. And oftentimes, the smooth-stroking high-average doubles hitter never gets any attention for his power, then becomes a home-run monster as he matures. As an evaluator you need to understand how that happens and when it applies to individual hitters.

For this noninclusive inquiry, I wanted to look at two hitters lumped into the first group, those believed to have the raw power to be legitimate home-run hitters and how that power has or hasn’t manifested itself in the professional game. In looking at how hitters are able or unable to tap into their raw power skills, we can have a better idea of how to evaluate whether other players will be able to develop those skills into tangible results. Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa provide two excellent examples of this paradigm. Bogaerts has shown he can hit for moderate power in the minors against age-advanced competition, but has not yet brought it to Boston in his young career. Correa has started to showcase his power in the early going this year, though prior to this season it was more projection than demonstration. He was touted as a five-tool prospect going into the draft, and our own Kiley McDaniel graded him out in October as having a present 60 raw power tool (65 potential) with a 55 potential game power ability, or approximately 19-22 homers per season.

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Hoffman and Reyes Among Minors’ Most Intriguing Arms

I’ve teased in the last few chats that some big updates on the various prospects lists will be out in a few weeks, but I wanted to address some of the most-asked-about prospects I’ve recently scouted in one piece as an appetizer for the big update.

Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

In Hoffman’s offseason scouting report I noted that he was in contention to go #1 overall until his elbow surgery, just before the 2014 draft where he went ninth overall. He made his first pro appearance this year and started making buzz right away, showing big velocity in a late big-league spring-training appearance, then in extended spring training and in his regular season debut at High-A Dunedin (he was just promoted to Double-A in the last few days). In the video, the first game shown is when I saw Hoffman about a month ago and the second game is when our own Chris King saw his first start for Dunedin about a month before that.

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Ten Things Mookie Betts Is Doing to Justify the Hype

The funny thing about being a phenom is you don’t really have to be phenomenal. Last season Mookie Betts was both exceptional and therefore the exception to that when he put up a 130 wRC+ in 52 games for the Boston Red Sox. He stole bases, he hit home runs, and he played center field after a life spent in the middle infield. He was your basic run-of-the-mill young star. But even young stars often struggle eventually, so this season figured to be somewhat of a learning process for the 22-year-old center fielder.

Betts didn’t disappoint at being disappointing. After a solid opening week that featured him almost single-handedly beating the expected best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals, in the home opener, Betts faltered. On June 10 — exactly one month ago for those of you without calendars — he was hitting .237/.298/.368. An 0-for-3 the next day made the numbers look worse. In this run environment that could play with exceptional defense, but for Betts that type of production was a disappointment. There was reason to believe he wasn’t playing quite that badly based on batted-ball velocity and a mid-.250s BABIP, and hey, fast forward* one month and Betts has brought his OPS up 131 points to .789.

*That’s a thing old people used to have to do when watching movies on videotape.**
**Videotape is what they used to have back before DVDs.***
***DVDs were what they used to… Actually, you know what? Forget it. I’m old.

During that time he’s put up a 189 wRC+ which, as Mike Petriello notes, puts him in the company of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado. Here are 10 ways Mookie Betts has turned his season around.

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Pablo Sandoval Hit a Pitch at His Eyes

A few years ago, early in the World Series, Pablo Sandoval teed off against the Tigers, going deep three times. What people tend to remember most is Sandoval tomahawking an 0-and-2 Justin Verlander fastball, up and out of the zone. Sandoval, of course, has always been perhaps the best bad-ball hitter in the game, but it was still something to get on top of that kind of pitch, in that kind of place, in that kind of situation. A relevant still:


That’s a high pitch, that Sandoval drilled with little problem. The form looks good. I mean, it was a dinger — the form had to look good. Some people took to saying that Sandoval homered off a pitch at his eyes. Something of an exaggeration, sure, but it’s the language of baseball, and it’s not like pitches get a whole lot higher.

On Monday, against Toronto, Pablo Sandoval hit a pitch that was actually at his eyes. It wasn’t the World Series, and it wasn’t a home run. It wasn’t even a base hit. It was just a groundball, like any other groundball. Except for that one thing, where the pitch was more than five feet off of the earth. People still remember Sandoval going upstairs to punish Verlander. The pitch Sandoval put in play against R.A. Dickey was higher than the Verlander pitch by 21 inches. 21 inches is the height of the world’s smallest man. Between Monday’s pitch and the Verlander pitch, you could fit a whole man.

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The Potential Highest Home Run On Record

This is a weird home run, that Yoenis Cespedes hit off Trevor Bauer Monday night:

It’s weird for a few reasons. The pitch was down. Cespedes hit it to the other side of center field. It was a low rocket, and the majority of these low-rocket dingers tend to hug the lines. Pretty good demonstration of Cespedes’ strength, or bat speed, if you think of those as different things. Things that are weird make me curious. Alas, I found a recent home run that was even weirder. It happened just this past weekend.

I hear you guys. You’re sick of reading about the Red Sox. You’re sick of reading about Hanley Ramirez. It’s totally understandable, but let me assure you — this isn’t being written because it’s about Hanley Ramirez on the Red Sox. That’s a coincidence. This would’ve been written about, I don’t know, Shin-Soo Choo on the Rangers, if that had been what’d happened. But there was a weird home run, and Hanley Ramirez hit it, and, dammit, it’s going to get words.

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The Most Unlikely Home Run

It seems like a simple question to ask. Which recent home run was the least likely?

You could flippantly answer — the one Erick Aybar hit this year, or the one Melky Cabrera hit this year — and because they’ve got the lowest isolated slugging percentages with at least one homer hit, you would be right. But that doesn’t control for the quality of the pitcher. Aybar hit his off of Rick Porcello, who is having some issues with the home run right now.

A slightly more sophisticated approach might have you scan down the list of the worst isolated powers in the game right now, and then cross-reference those names with the pitchers that allowed those home runs. If you do that, you’ll eventually settle on Alexei Ramirez, who hit his first homer of the year off of Johnny Cueto earlier this year.

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Boston’s Trey Ball Coming Along Slowly, Still Has Upside

It has been almost exactly two years since the Red Sox made high-school left-hander Trey Ball the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, the first southpaw off the board. Needless to say, such a high selection comes with considerable fanfare and attendant expectations. Soon after being drafted, most Red Sox prospect lists included Ball somewhere in the top 10 (in a stacked organization), and he even snuck into the back end of a few overall top 100s. He did sign for under slot, and as a lanky, projectable high-school arm, he wasn’t exactly expected to move quickly, but still, Ball has spent his career at least largely under the microscope.

Now under a month from his 21st birthday, though, Ball has done little to inspire significant praise since his selection. In 175.2 career innings, he has struck out 115, walked 75, allowed 18 home runs, and posted a 4.41 ERA. He ranked just 15th on Kiley’s offseason Red Sox prospect list, and that wasn’t far off his typical placement. Nobody’s written Ball off as a bust, but nobody has thrown future ace plaudits at him as a pro, either. Oddly, he seems to be almost flying under the radar, as others in Boston’s system have attracted more attention at various points in the past two seasons.

Ball nevertheless remains an important figure in the Boston system, and he’s at the point in his career where it’s time to start examining the present and future of his development. I caught his start on May 29, and it definitely gave a better sense of why Ball hasn’t taken the minors by storm yet, as well as how he projects going forward.

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What If Boston Traded Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval?

On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote an article titled “Red Sox need to dump Sandoval, Ramirez, like, now.” He states, in essence, that the Red Sox need to dump Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, like, now. He states that they’re bad fits for Boston and that the Red Sox should have known that and the only way forward for Boston is to send both elsewhere and pay whatever it costs to do so. Suppose the Red Sox did trade Sandoval and Ramirez. Suppose they followed Rosenthal’s plan and got rid of both. What would happen then? Would Boston be better off? Let’s find out!

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Do You See Something the Projections Don’t?

Last night I was out getting a drink with our own Matthew Kory. His favorite team is the Red Sox. My favorite team is the Mariners. The bar we went to was showing the Mariners game, and while the Mariners were actually winning, that did nothing to stem the tide of jokes at our own expense. They’re two very different teams in two very similar situations — they came in with a lot of hype and promise, some people labeling them World Series contenders, and to this point they’ve more or less sucked. I don’t know which team has been the bigger disappointment. There’s still time yet, but while that means things could get better, that means, also, things could get worse.

The conversation turned to looking ahead. It was just last week I wrote about the meaning of the standings through a couple months, relative to the meaning of the projections. The numbers suggested that the Sox and Mariners would be pretty good. They continue to suggest that, and, my brain knows it should believe that. But it can be difficult to fully accept, when you’re watching a team playing different from the expectations. It feels like a bad team is just a bad team. It feels like a good team has something special going on. There are feelings you’re supposed to feel, and feelings you actually feel. Actual feelings, you could say, are greatly prone to recency bias.

The conversation has led to this post. It’s another post with an assortment of polls, asking for your participation. The idea: do you see something, in the teams you follow, the projections don’t? Do you see reason to doubt the projected records? The polls will ask about five teams: the Red Sox, Mariners, Royals, Cardinals, and Nationals.

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JABO: Pablo Sandoval and When Switch-Hitting Isn’t Worth It

Almost three weeks ago, Pablo Sandoval did something extraordinary at the plate. To be fair, Sandoval often does interesting and unique things — mostly involving swinging at and hitting impossible pitches — so this might not come as a surprise. However, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill sort of Sandoval madness. I’ll allow a short looping film to begin to tell the story:

A few things happened here: he swung at the first pitch, it was high and inside, and he got jammed but still managed to hit a line drive. These are all things Sandoval routinely does, so you can’t be blamed if you think one of them is what we’re highlighting. The true answer? Sandoval faced a left-handed pitcher as a left-handed batter.

If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider this: Kung Fu Panda hadn’t batted from the left side against a left-handed pitcher before this at bat since 2011. For what it’s worth, both Sandoval and his manager John Farrell claimed he only batted as a lefty in this pinch-hit appearance because of a knee injury sustained by a hit by pitch a few days before. Still, the fact remains: Sandoval’s struggles as a switch hitter from the right side are well documented, and they’ve gotten remarkably worse this season. It says at least say something that he batted from the left side here, given his struggles.

So just how bad has it gotten when he’s in the right batter’s box? Sandoval has a .160 OPS mark as a right-handed hitter facing a left-handed pitcher this year. He owns a 2.1% walk rate and a 27.1% strikeout rate from that side. In other terms, he’s hit three singles in 46 at-bats with one walk. That’s about the equivalent offensive output of Kyle Kendrick in 2014, except that Kendrick is a pitcher, and he doesn’t bat near the middle of the order for the Red Sox.

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Looking for a Way Forward for the Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox 2015 season is starting to look like an abject failure. A week ago, they were not too far from pulling back up to .500 and were only five and a half games back of first place in a weak division, and they had an upcoming six game stretch against the Orioles and Blue Jays that presented a real opportunity to gain some ground on two of their competitors. Instead, the Red Sox lost all six games, are now 10 games under .500, and are eight games behind both the Yankees and Rays, and seven games behind the Blue Jays. In one week’s time, they’ve moved from being within spitting distance of first place to being equally far back of fourth place.

Nearly every move the organization made last winter is currently looking like a disaster. The big acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez (-0.4 WAR), Pablo Sandoval (+0.1 WAR), and Rick Porcello (+0.5 WAR) have resulted in a trio of highly paid replacement level performers, and the more minor acquisitions like Wade Miley (+0.5 WAR) and Justin Masterson (-0.2 WAR) have been just as ineffective. While the history of these deals won’t be written based on their first few months in Boston, it’s fair to say that things aren’t exactly working out according to the team’s plans.

And now the Red Sox are heading towards a crossroads. This experiment hasn’t worked, and with just six weeks to go before the trade deadline, the Red Sox have to start considering the fact that they may be sellers at the deadline. The upside of being terrible is that it’s a good year to be selling talent, but the Red Sox are struggling in large part because their big expensive acquisitions have been lousy, and it’s not so easy to dump $100 million contracts a few months after they were signed. The path forward for the Red Sox isn’t so obvious, but let’s try to figure out some priorities for this team’s short-term and longer-term future.

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Xander Bogaerts and the Uneven Road to Success

We haven’t spoken about Xander Bogaerts at length in these digital pages for some time, so let’s remedy that situation. It seems like a good time to check in on the young shortstop’s development as a major-league hitter: Bogaerts is posting a wRC+ north of 100 in the first two months of the season, and he’s also almost cut his strikeout rate in half compared to last year. There’s also this group, which is an interesting subset of players, of which Boston’s shortstop is the leader — hitters with the highest increase in batted balls to the opposite field this season over last season:


Though it’s still perhaps a little early to be putting a ton of confidence in these numbers, changes as large as these in a hitter’s opposite-field tendencies merit attention. Opposite-field approach is often a good place to look when searching for a reason behind a change in type of production, and, given the drop in Bogaert’s ISO numbers from last year — .123 in 2014 vs. .106 this year — plus the fact that we’re over the ISO stabilization point, it’s one of the spots we’re going to focus on.

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