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Eric Wedge, Lord of Leverage

April 28, 2009

Eric Wedge was actually ejected in the fourth inning of the Indians-Red Sox game, so this should be about the Indians bench or pitching coach, but that is beside the point.

After a pitching duel between Boston’s Tim Wakefield and Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, the score is 0-0. Boston has their 2-3-4 hitters coming up, and Cleveland’s substitute manager elected to send out the closer (and probably best reliever), Kerry Wood, to face the heart of the Sox order.

This is a positively brilliant move.

The idea that a closer should only pitch in “save” situations is the dumbest case of managing to a statistic. MLB managers suffer from a groupthink problem where they all make the same mistake, saving their closer for situations where they can earn a save. What managers should be doing is saving their closer for those situations with the highest leverage (close and late), and against the best hitters in the opponent’s batting order. A tie game in the ninth inning against a team’s (supposed) three best hitters should be one of the best times to use the closer.

Some day, we’ll all know closers as “relief aces”, and it won’t matter if it’s the 7th, 8th, 9th, or 10th inning. We’ll see the best relief pitcher when they can best be used to control the outcome of the game.

(Note: As I’m writing this, Kerry Wood gave up a three-run dinger to Jason Bay, but that doesn’t mean using Wood to try to maintain the tie wasn’t the right move.)

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Marchman on Salary Caps

February 25, 2009

My apologies for the near total lack of posting. I was hoping to hold off on spring previews until all the big FAs are signed, but it appears Manny is going to hold out until opening day, so we’ll get started on those soon.

I am very much against a salary cap in baseball, and I think Tim Marchman captures my feelings on players and ownership very well in this piece. (Found via Rob Neyer’s daily links here.)

Enough parasite behavior, we’ll have spring previews starting with the NL Central later this week.

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SABRtooth on Bleacher Report

February 6, 2009

Your author wrote one of Bleacher Report’s pre-season preview articles, discussing five questions facing the Boston Red Sox.

The hot stove has been quite cool in the past couple weeks. We’ll return with preseason previews next week as pitchers and catchers report to their teams in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

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A slow week…

January 29, 2009

But you should all read Rob Neyer’s recent post on the Joe Torre tell-all and the fallout.

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Varitek and Boras

January 26, 2009

After leaving him (fairly deservedly) out in the cold for months, the Red Sox have decided to make Jason Varitek an unconventional offer. The deal, as reported by Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe, would pay Varitek one year at five million, with two 2010 options: a club option at five million, and a player option at three.

The idea here is probably to gradually reduce Varitek’s playing time. Peter Gammons mentioned this weekend that only six catchers have ever caught over 100 games at age 37, and the Red Sox are not the kind of team to try to make Varitek number seven. If Varitek is OK with a reduced role, he can come back with the player option. If Varitek defies his clear aging trend and decline in performance, then the Red Sox can bring him back. 

The offer smells like a sympathy/public relations move. While the Red Sox did not have terribly compelling catching options in-house between Josh Bard and George Kottaras, those two did have the virtue of being cheap. Varitek, even if he plays 2009 like the average of 2006-2008 seasons, does not figure to perform far above the level of Bard, and a return to form would be blindly optimistic.

It’s not as if Varitek has other options. Since he and Scott Boras stupidly turned down salary arbitration (which likely would have netted Varitek at least $10 million), no team has been willing to take a look at Varitek, for fear of losing their first-round draft pick as compensation. Knowing that teams were unwilling to pay for Varitek at any price, the Red Sox had no need to give Varitek more than it would take to prevent him from retiring or sitting out the season. Theo Epstein and Co. may have judged five million dollars to be a sum that will bring Varitek back and shields them from being called stingy in the media if Varitek were to refuse, but Epstein has not appeared to care much about media opinion in the past.

Boras (and Varitek) badly misread the market here. In 2004, when  Varitek posted an .872 OPS and was the toast of baseball for managing Boston’s top-flight stable of pitchers to their “curse-breaking” world championship, they had most of  the leverage. Now, after three seasons of poor play and a poor gamble, the Red Sox have all the leverage. The Sox’ deal apparently has a deadline. It would behoove Mr. Boras and Mr. Varitek to swallow their collective pride and accept before the deadline passes.

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The Passion of Mark McGwire

January 23, 2009

The recent actions of Mark McGwire’s brother, selling an incriminating account of his brother’s performance-enhancing drug (PED) use to book publishers, are yet another sad chapter in the story of a man who is credited with saving baseball from the post-strike nadir of its popularity in the mid-1990s. We will not comment here on whether or not Mark McGwire “deserves” to be in the Hall of Fame. While we do not believe the writers are particularly skilled analysts of career performance, this kind of moral question does fall within their domain. The scribes spend time with the players, understand clubhouse culture, and are the keepers of baseball’s legacy. 

We will, however, point out that it’s very, very likely that Mark McGwire never did anything against the rules at any point in his career. Anabolic steroids did not become illegal in the United States until 1990, when Congress added them to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. McGwire openly admitted to using “Andro”, a substance that has since been banned from baseball, but it was banned after McGwire publicized his use of it, not before.

This blog is not taking the stance that what McGwire did was honest, but in all the discussion about his infamous Senate subcommittee testimony and Hall of Fame credentials, the conversation often appears to make an assumption that McGwire was a “cheater”. Cheating requires breaking the rules, and at the likely points in his career when Mark McGwire is suspected of using first anabolic steroids and then Andro, neither was illegal under the laws of baseball or the laws of the United States. Pete Rose broke baseball’s cardinal rule, a rule that is posted in every clubhouse of every professional team. Mark McGwire probably screwed around with a variety of drugs that were dangerous to his health, and may have helped him hit a few more dingers. If he did use the PEDs in question, he wasn’t breaking rules at the time.

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Kent Retires

January 23, 2009

Growing up around the American League, we never realized how truly great Jeff Kent was. Kent, the 40 year-old second baseman, announced his retirement today, ending a career that spanned 17 years, playing for six teams. Kent will almost certainly get into the Hall of Fame, as his 377 career home runs are more than any second baseman ever. Upon hearing that number, one might think, “OK, he was a productive hitter at a traditionally weak position. Is that really Hall of Fame-worthy?”

The answer should be a resounding “yes”. According to Baseball Prospectus, Kent generated about 110 wins over replacement (second basemen) over his 17 years in the majors, including a three year span with the Giants where he produced over ten wins a year. To put that in context, the recently elected Jim Rice never had a single season where he produced ten wins (his only season above eight was a 9.6 in 1978), and averaged barely two thirds the position-adjusted production per year that Kent put up.

Kent isn’t a Hall of Fame candidate because the current members who played second base are weak. Kent should be a Hall of Famer because he was an exceptionally productive player across the span of his career.