Tuesday, October 23, 2007
After eighty-plus years of futility and disappointment the Red Sox stand on the cusp of their second World Series title. This will be anticlimactic, if they win, after the joy of their 2004 triumph, but no less significant: if the Red Sox win again they’ll have notched two titles and be well-positioned to win some more in the coming years. The Yankees, their dreaded rivals, appear to be heading into eclipse: the classless firing (that’s what it was) of Joe Torre and the potential departures of Mariano Rivera, A-Rod and Jorge Posada suggest that the 2008 Yankees will be in disarray. The Yankees will especially struggle if they cannot improve their pitching staff. With the Orioles continuing to mire themselves in mediocrity, the Blue Jays being unable to turn the corner and contend, and the Devil Rays remain full of potential but without any results to show for it, the Red Sox are well-positioned to dominate the A.L. East for a few years and possibility build a dynasty behind Big Papi, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Also on the rise are the Rockies. After making just one post-season appearance in their history, back in 2005 when they were run-out of the NLDS by the Atlanta Braves 3-1, here come of the Rockies, runners of 13 of their last 14 regular season games, winner of the one-game playoff with the Padres, winners of seven consecutive playoff games. The last time of the Rockies lost a game was almost a month ago, when they dropped a 4-2 decision to the D-Backs at the hands of Brandon Webb. Since then, they’ve been perfect.
The Rockies are young and deep and seemed poised to remain contenders for some time to come.
Rockies Batters vs. Red Sox Pitchers. The core of the Red Sox is their pitching and defense. The 2007 Red Sox led the American League in ERA and their fielders tied with the Blue Jays for tops in the A.L. in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). The ace of the Red Sox staff is Josh Beckett, the former Florida Marlin, who was 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 2007.
Beckett’s stats from this season are pretty impressive: 9.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 4.85 K/BB ratio. He’s having a career season and he’s been especially dominating thus far in the post-season: 3-0, 1.17 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 1 walk. The Rockies are going to have a hard time getting anything going against him in Game One. Assuming that the series goes to seven games, they’ll face Beckett three times. The Red Sox haven’t announced the rest of their lineup for the Series, but it seems likely that Tim Wakefield will get the Game Two start in Fenway. I hope for the Red Sox sake that it goes better than his Game Four start in the ALCS when he got bombed for five runs in the fourth inning. The contrast between Beckett and Wakefield might have an interesting effect on Rockies hitters: Beckett’s hard heat vs. Wakefield’s wobbling knucklers.
After that the Red Sox will send Dice-K Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling to the mound. Dice-K was a mild disappointment to the Red Sox in his first season in the major leagues, going 15-12 with a high 4.40 ERA. He got a lot of strikeouts (8.9 K/9) but also allowed a lot of walks (3.5 BB/9). He’ll learn better control as time goes on, but for now he’s hot-and-cold.
Schilling’s strikeouts are on the wane (6.2 K/9, down from 8.7 in 2004, 8.0 in 2005 and 8.5 in 2006), but he’s still got great control on the mound (1.4 BB/9).
I think that the Rockies might have problems with control-pitchers Beckett and Schilling. They are a team that works counts, draws walks, hammers home runs and doubles and occasionally steals a base or two. If Beckett and Schilling toss strikes, the Rockies might find themselves battling back in 0-2 and 1-2 counts.
The Red Sox bullpen isn’t as formidable. I doubt that Eric Gagne will be making any appearances, but Jonathan Papelbon had pitched well.
It is hard not to be impressed with the Rockies lineup. They remind me of the 2004 Red Sox, a deep collection of hitters that didn’t rely on any particular bat to generate runs. Matt Holliday (36 Home Runs, 137 RBI) is their best hitter and potential MVP, but after him there is Brad Hawpe (29 Home Runs, 116 RBI), Garrett Atkins (25 Home Runs, 111 RBI), Troy Tulowitzki (24 Home Runs, 99 RBI) and Todd Helton (17 Home Runs, 91 RBI). Holliday had 125 Runs Created in 2007. This is a brutal lineup that would get a lot more respect if it didn’t play at Coors Field.
I give a slight advantage here to the Red Sox however. If Beckett and Schilling toss strikes and Wakefield’s knuckler dances, the Rockies could find themselves struggling at the plate. Unless the Rockies can break through and get into the Red Sox bullpen, I think that the Red Sox will get the better of this matchup.
Rockies Pitchers vs. Red Sox Batters. I’m not a big fan of the Red Sox lineup. They rely far too much on Mike Lowell (21 Home Runs and 120 RBI) and Big Papi (35 Home Runs and 117 RBI) to generate their offense. To be sure they have other bats – Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis is a solid #2 hitter with 16 Home Runs, 83 RBI, .390 OBP – but they rely on Lowell and Big Papi, especially since J.D. Drew has been such a bust (11 Home Runs, 64 RBI).
But any lineup with Big Papi is going to score some runs.
The question is whether the Rockies pitchers can continue their remarkable run. Thus far this post-season they are 7-0, with a collective ERA of just 2.07. They are stingy with the walks (2.76 BB/9) and good with the strikeouts (7.47 K/9). Their ace if Jeff Francis, who pitched well in the regular season (17-9, 4.22 ERA), and very well in the post-season: 2-0, 2.13 ERA, 2.13 BB/9, 8.53 K/9. The surprise for the Rockies has been how well their motley collection of pitchers have pitched. Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Fogg threw quality innings for the Rockies in the NLDS and NLCS and Manny Corpas has been tough to hit.
This is a slight edge for the Rockies, in my judgment. I think the Red Sox will work some counts, but I predict that the Rockies will manage to get ahead and will have the advantage. Contrary to expectations, I expect these games to be low-scoring 3-2 games, instead of 11-5 slugfests.
History: observers commented that had people looked at the Rockies domination of the Phillies during the regular season they wouldn’t have been so surprised by the Rockies three game sweep in the NLDS. Well, the Rockies won two of their three regular season games from the Red Sox, in Fenway, against Beckett and Schilling. After losing a 2-1 pitchers duel to Tim Wakefield on June 12, the Rockies came back behind Josh Fogg and shelled Schilling for five runs in five innings on their way to a 12-2 win the next day, followed by a 7-1 win the next day that handed Beckett his first loss of the season.
It is hard not to look at those three games, which happened so many weeks ago before the Rockies “Rocktober” began, and not see them as significant.
So … what’ll it be? I like the Red Sox pitching better, but I have to go with the Rockies. I think they’ll get to Wakefield in Game Two and sweep the final games in Denver. Rockies in five games.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The World Series matchup is set: Colorado Rockies vs. the Boston Red Sox. The team of Destiny 2007 vs. the Team of Destiny 2004. It will be an interesting series, featuring two teams with stellar offenses. The Rockies aren’t going to sneak up on people anymore and people know that the Rockies pitching is actually pretty good.
Much has been made of the American League’s dominance in inter-league play over the last several years, but the World Series have seen a lot of parity. Since the Yankees won the World Series in 2000 over the Mets, the split between the A.L. and N.L. is dead-even: each has won three titles. The N.L. has seen the Arizona Diamondbacks (2001), the Florida Marlins (2003), and the St. Louis Cardinals (2006) all win, while the A.L. has seen the Anaheim Angels (2002), the Boston Red Sox (2004) and the Chicago White Sox (2005) win. Interestingly, I think that the American League team was favored in each one of those series, so it just goes to show you that anything can happen in baseball.
I’ll break-down the World Series tomorrow, but my gut right now tells me to go with the Rockies, winners of 21 of their last 22 games, the new team of destiny.
Moving along to Phillies matters …
A fan named Dan Landis wrote into the Inquirer arguing that the Phillies should let Rowand walk because his asking price was too high and because Rowand wasn’t really a great defensive centerfielder. In the Sunday Edition there were a few letters assailing Landis letter, which I thought were worth commenting on. Here is the first from a fan in Holland:
No offense, but I have to ask Broomall's Dan Landis (The 700 Level, Oct. 14) a serious question: What are you smokin', pal?
So, the Phillies would do well not to sign Aaron Rowand for next year? Were you watching the same player the rest of us Phillies fans were this year? Did you not see the shoestring catches that got Phillies pitchers out of numerous jams? How about the leaping grabs inches from the top of the center-field wall? Did you miss the times he was there to save Pat Burrell's various malaprops? Granted, the $14 million Rowand's agent hinted he will command for 2008 and beyond is a Phillies ownership budget buster. However, don't tell me Rowand's "slowness" in the outfield is the reason you would let him "walk." Dan, you obviously do not have a clue as to what Rowand has done to help the 2007 Fightin' Phils successfully drive to the NL East championship.
Here is the second letter, this one is from a fan in Cherry Hill:
I couldn't believe my eyes while reading Dan Landis' letter "Rowand Must Go" last Sunday. What games has he been watching? Rowand slow? Rowand not a good defensive centerfielder? Good grief! He has always been regarded by the powers that be in major-league baseball as a solid defensive presence. Sure, Michael Bourn is faster. But very few outfielders have the instincts that Rowand possesses. Very few get the outstanding jump on the ball that he gets. And without good instincts, blinding speed means nothing. Also, where did that
"a problem getting to fly balls" come from? My wife and I watched literally every game this year. We didn't see a problem but did see some spectacular catches.
I sort of imagined Bill James or Rob Neyer or one of the writers over at The Hardball Times or Baseball Prospectus slapping their hands on their heads and doubling over at the headache as they tried to draft a response. “Did you see that catch that so-and-so made against that team? What a great defensive player!” This is the reason why sabremetricians nearly have a stroke when people argue that Derek Jeter is a great defensive player and cite his flip relay to Jorge Posada to catch Jeremy Giambi at home in the seventh inning of Game Three of the 2001 ALDS. Jeter’s flip caught Giambi as he motored in to score what would have been the tying run in the game. Instead the Yankees held on to win 1-0 and went on to win the series in an improbable comeback.
One play doesn’t a great defensive player make. Virtually the entire sabremetric community is unanimous in their agreement that Derek Jeter is a substandard shortstop and does not deserve his annual gold glove recognition. Here’s a thought fellas: maybe those “shoestring catches” to get Phillies pitchers “out of jams” are actually the product of Rowand’s limits on the field. Don’t the great players make routine plays? Maybe Rowand has to make shoestring catches because he lacks the speed to get to the ball and his hustle is the only thing keeping him in the game anymore.
The numbers don’t help the fan from Cherry Hill. Aaron Rowand might have had a reputation from the “powers that be” for being a great defensive centerfielder from his days with the White Sox, but the numbers show that he hasn’t live up to that reputation in Philly. Amongst the seven N.L. centerfielders who logged 1,000+ innings of work in 2007, Rowand ranks sixth of the seven in term of Relative Zone Rating (RZR): .861, behind the Braves Andruw Jones (.921), the Mets Carlos Beltran (.915), the Dodgers Juan Pierre (.902), the Padres Mike Cameron (.894), and the D-backs Chris Young (.875). Rowand is better than the Brewers Bill Hall (.846), which is little solace because Bill Hall is utterly incompetent in the field. In 2006, Rowand’s first season in the red pinstripes, he ranked worse: ninth of ten N.L. centerfielders in RZR. Remember, this was a season where Rowand had people swooning after him when he ran into the ball and broke his nose making a catch early in the season. In 2006 Rowand was better than … Ken Griffey, Jr. That’s not something to celebrate.
For all of Rowand’s energy you’d think he’d be involved in more plays, but he ranked just fourth of seven in Range Factor in 2007, at 2.64 he was behind Beltran (2.87), Jones (2.67) and the dithering Hall (2.65).
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.
That’s why the true evaluation of a baseball player is not how many shoestring catches they made, or how many times they run into walls, or how many clutch hits they make. The true evaluation of a player is how often do they get to ball in the field and how well do they hit at the plate.
Moving along … Joe Torre is now officially unemployed. I think he’ll probably spend 2008 watching the game from the TV announcer’s booth before making a commitment to coaching again in 2009. I could see him replacing Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, for example. I like what Jim Salisbury had to say about Torre in Sunday’s Inquirer: He was the calming, fatherly force in the tsunami that often is baseball in the Bronx.
I think the Yankees are in a period of transition right now. Brian Cashman is wielding a lot more power over the franchise and I thought it was interesting how steadfast Cashman has been in not dumping the Yankees prospects for short-term help. Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were both pitchers who the Yankees would have unloaded for an extra bat in the past. Astonishing that they haven’t done that. I think Cashman is going to try and get the Yankees back to what they were in their 1996 – 2000 period, when they won four World Series in five seasons. Those teams were solid, deep teams loaded with good fielders, great pitching and solid, unspectacular hitters. The current Yankees are an All-Star collection of sluggers who don’t field well and their pitching is a bunch of retreads.
Who will get the job? I expect Joe Girardi to get the managing job. He’s young and already impressed people with his Manager of the Year performance in 2006 with the Florida Marlins. He’s a guy who could coach 10-15 years in the Bronx and give the Yankees some long-term stability.
I also expect to see Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez test the free agency market. I see the Chicago Cubs making a big run at Posada to catch for them, while the Angels will open up their wallets and make A-Rod a very rich man. Rivera? I’m sure you’ll see the Phillies make a pass at him, but I see Rivera in Boston in 2008. That’s right, a Red Sox.
Tomorrow, Red Sox vs. Rockies in the World Series.