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Boston has had one of the league’s best offenses so far this season.

However.

David Ortiz, who was just breaking out of his April slump, is now on the 15-day DL. Ortiz hit .198 in April but had a .310 average in May, leading fans to expect that good times would again seem so good, so good, so good. But now, at the beginning of June, his left wrist is immobilized in a hard, black cast. He’ll miss at least three weeks and could be facing season-ending surgery.

So the big question going into the trading deadline is: do the Red Sox need to add a power bat?

Ouchie the wristI say no. At least, not until we know more. In two weeks, the doctors will remove Big Papi’s cast and see how the wrist feels. If there’s no pain, he could be back in the batter’s box having missed only a few pesky interleague games. Sure, that’s a big if. But even without Ortiz, the Red Sox will still score a lot of runs—they’ll just do it a slightly different way. Even with Ortiz out of the lineup, the Red Sox still have enviable offensive depth, with Coco Crisp, Sean Casey, and Alex Cora available off the bench. Plus, they’ve got another handy infielder, Jed Lowrie, down at AAA along with a number of other useful subs. In other words, no half-season rentals need apply.

Yet there’s no doubt that the absence of Ortiz will change the dynamics of the team. Most notably, a Papi-less lineup will put even more pressure on a pitching staff that has already failed to live up to its billing. Boston’s team ERA is a thoroughly mediocre 4.03. Their starters have provided their fair share of innings, and the starting rotation has limited opponents to a batting average of .237—best in the AL. Their relievers have been slightly less effective, but, as you might expect from a team just a half-game out of first place, still not terrible.

The problem has been that both Boston’s starters and the team’s relievers routinely issue too many walks. Though Boston’s pitching staff is second in the league in strikeouts, their ERA, WHIP and OBP are all middling due to the fact that they’ve issued the third most walks in the league, after the truly abysmal staffs of the Tigers and the Rangers.

The Red Sox don’t necessarily need more hurlers—for starting pitchers, they’ve got Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuaka, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Bartolo Colon, Clay Buchholz (currently in AAA), Justin Masterson (an AAA pitching prospect currently with the big league club), and Curt Schilling, who threw off a mound today for the first time this season. (He threw 25 pitches and felt good afterwards.) And in the bullpen, they’ve got marquee closer Jonathan Papelbon and a surprisingly decent middle-relief option in David Aardsma. But they’ve got an ineffective specialist in Javier Lopez, a LOOGY who has actually been less effective against lefties, and a quartet of struggling set-up men: Mike Timlin, who may finally have to concede defeat to Father Time; Hideki Okajima, who looks this year like a mere mortal; Craig Hansen, a 6’6″ 24-year old whose devastating slider comes and goes like a Gypsy troubadour; and Manny Delcarmen, a fireballer who appears oddly vulnerable on the mound.

No, the quantity is there. It’s the quality that’s lacking. Given the caliber of the pitches these guys have in their respective arsenals, that’s mysterious and disturbing. These aren’t guys who go up there and throw junk—for the most part, these are guys with high-90s heat at their disposal. But for the Red Sox to repeat as world champions, their pitchers are going to have to stop issuing so many free passes.

-What They Need Index-

13 Responses to “What They Need – Boston Red Sox: No More Free Passes”

  1. Lyndsay says:

    “The problem has been that both Boston’s starters and the team’s relievers routinely issue too many walks.”

    aren’t these basically ALL due to Dice-K?

    despite Pap’s record, he’s seemed surprisingly mortal to me as well this year – he’s gotten himself into a few jams this year, and hasn’t appeared to me as lights-out as last year.

    I’m still surprised they let Tavarez go and kept someone like Lopez around. I thought Tavarez gave them some pretty decent innings.

    I am rooting pretty hard for Manny #2 to improve, because he’s a hometown boy and all, youre right though, his confidence gets shook too easily out there – and I’m blaming Frank Thomas for that.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, while I completely agree with you that walks have been a problem for the Sox, I’m not sure how the performance of the bullpen is relevant. Because actually most of the walks have been issued by the starting pitchers. The biggest culprits this year have been Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, and Buchholz. In the bullpen, the only guy actually allowing a crazy amount of walks has been David Aardsma, whom you actually praised.

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, Lyndsay, regarding letting go a better pitcher in order to keep Lopez, what else is new? Last year the Sox released JC Romero when they had a roster crunch, despite the fact that he only had a 3.15 ERA, rather than drop Lopez, who I think we can all agree is useless. Romero went on to have a 1.24 ERA for the Phillies the rest of the year, and has a 1.31 ERA for them this year.

  4. The crazy thing is Dice-K is the guy who walks the most batters (I’m not going to look this up, but it must be true), yet he seldom gets hurt by it. I mean, 8-0, right?

    I do worry about Okie-Dokie. He seems to have lost his mojo and he was such a huge part of the Sox’ success last season.

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    Coley I did look it up and you are right – Dice-K is the worst culprit with walks (5.3 BB/9). But he also strikes out a lot of guys and has been lucky with BABIP.

  6. Lyndsay says:

    Buck can be forgiven – he’s a kid and he’s going to spend some time in the minors to work on his stuff (unfortunately for Dennis Eckersley :-() Beckett has been unlucky in a couple of his starts in that a couple of them were games he SHOULD have won, but didn’t get any run support. so I think in Beckett’s case, his record isn’t really accurately reflective of his performance. on the flip side, Dice-K’s record is not reflective of his performance at all – there were games in there that he definitely SHOULD have lost.

    Lester is the one that throws me – I’m usually like, “oh, fuck him and his cancer! he can’t get past 5 innings without giving up 4 runs!”…and then he goes and throws a no-hitter. and then it’s back to 4 runs in 5 innings the next week (or something like that). his inconsistency is maddening.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, the Red Sox bullpen has been slightly weaker than the starting rotation across the board, which is why I focused on them. The Red Sox have plenty of starting depth, and guys like Beckett and Daisuke and even youngster Buchholz have all shown that they can pitch better than they have so far and it seems reasonable to expect some improvement as the season wears on. Lester is more of a work in progress, as Lyndsay noted. Wakefield, the knuckleballer, is the only one who has the right to issue so many walks. With the Buck in the minors right now to “work on his fastball command,” and Sir Daisuke Walksalot on the DL to rest, I think they’ll be able to turn around the starters with relative ease.

    When you consider that Boston starters have pitched more innings than Boston relievers, I’m not surprised at all that the starters have issued more total walks. But the relievers and the starters have issued walks at almost exactly the same rate—0.427 per inning for the starters, .0424 for the relievers.

    So I focused on the bullpen because to me, fixing the bullpen is going to be more problematic. First, consider that when a starter walks a few too many guys, he’s gotten himself into a jam. A jam that a reliever will likely be called into fix. If the reliever also walks guys, what do you have? Runs. Runs are bad.

    Second, the bullpen just doesn’t have the depth that the starting rotation has. The Red Sox are relying a lot on young guys (Hansen and Delcarmen) who don’t have that flinty, steely, I-WANT-TO-EAT-YOUR-CHILDREN look in their eyes when they come into a game. We joke about intangibles, but I think for relievers who enter the game in high-leverage moments, it’s good to have a bit of that attitude. (See file: Papelbon.) Maybe they’ll gain some confidence with more experience—Delcarmen did strike out the side for the first time this year just last night, which cheered me greatly. When you throw high-90s heat, you don’t need to nibble.

    As for Aardsma, it’s all relative. I praised him because every time he goes out there, I expect him to let in a run. Yet he hasn’t been that bad.

  8. Lyndsay says:

    Remy was noting last night (and I concur) that Okajima comes in a lot to get out of bases-jammed situations. maybe they need to start him fresh in an inning to get his confidence back, because those situations seem to be what kills him.

    I still think something’s off with Papelbon this season (and no it’s not his general personality). to me, he’s not as sharp as last year.

    I don’t know what to think about Hansen right now. I am just glad he cut his mullet off and got a grownup hairdo.

  9. Sarah Green says:

    Lyndsay, I agree about Okajima! I am glad that Jerry Remy apparently reads UmpBump too.

    About Paps, I think your eyes may be deceiving you a little bit. Yes, his ERA is an uncharacteristically “high” 2.00, higher than it’s ever been as a reliever. But that could partly be UmpBump’s favorite stat, BABIP, striking again. Papelbon’s has been .313 this year–a little high, but not super-crazy high. Otherwise, only a few things stand out to me, statistically.

    His K/9 rate is still up where it usually lives—an excellent 11.33—but his K/BB rate is ALSO 11.33, which is fantastic, but crazy high! (His K/BB the past two years has been 5.77 and 5.60, so we can see that his walk rate so far this year is waaaay down.) He also usually gives up more fly balls than ground balls, but this year he’s given up more grounders. His BAA this year is .220, when it’s been way below .200 the past two years. Are hitters just being more aggressive against him? Most of the hits he’s given up have been early in the count. Maybe the hitters are going in there, like, “I’m just going to go up there and swing, and God willing, I’ll get a hit.”

    Or maybe these extra hits are coming off of that new “slider/cutter” he revealed last year on Letterman. Though I am not a PITCHf/x expert.

    Any other ideas?

  10. Sarah Green says:

    Also, I think we should name Papelbon’s “slider/cutter” a “slutter.” That would amuse me.

  11. Sarah,

    Papelbon beat you to it:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2007/08/22/new_pitch_same_story_for_papelbon/

    How proud my mother would be right now if she knew that I had taken part in an intelligent discussion on baseball…and that my “part” was to provide the origins of the word “slutter”. It’s like all the hopes and dreams she had for me when I was a child are finally coming true.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    Goddammit. And I was so proud of my wordsmithery.

  13. Sarah Green says:

    And yes, I’m sure my parents are also proud of what that expensive education accomplished.

    “After years of the finest New England private schooling, our daughter makes up marginally vulgar new words for baseball pitches! That have already been invented!”

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