Time to Count Your Chips

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Dustin Pedroia at Yankee Stadium in New York
With the Sox back in Boston after a long road trip, it's time to take stock of what the team has left.

Is a playoff appearance still in the cards?

It's a slump. That's it. That has to be it.

Mayday! Mayday! We're going down... aren't we?

Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a slump and a freefall. When given the choice, you always root for the slump, because, what other options do you have...
Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Dustin Pedroia at Yankee Stadium in New York

It’s a slump. That’s it. That has to be it.
Mayday! Mayday! We’re going down… aren’t we?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a slump and a freefall. When given the choice, you always root for the slump, because, what other options do you have?
But there’s a subtle beauty in a slump. Just like a sudden thundershower in July (and we’ve had plenty of those this year in New England), they come and go without warning, are usually brief, and no one but the Almighty seems to know when they’ll end. So, instead of trying to be the Knower of All Things, let’s just try to be weathermen. Shall we?
There have been definite signs that point to a freefall and there have been others that point to a slump. First off, this team is way, WAY too talented to put on a repeat of Kerrigan’s Klub in 2001, when they lost a gut-wrenching 13 of 14 games in late August. However, it’s far from certain that they are the 2004 or 2007 teams that rode off into the sunset.
As for the good signs, this team is about to get a whole lot better. The wounded veterans are about to return and bring some desperately needed reinforcements.
Jason Bay’s hamstring is going to heal, which, coupled with his time away from the plate, should bring an end to his horrific struggles at the dish. That sweet April power stroke should return because, hey, talent doesn’t just disappear. Unless this injury is more serious than is being let on, he’ll be just fine. A break is just what the doctor ordered anyway, as those strikeout issues were getting ridiculous.
Tim Wakefield’s return will also be a welcome sight for sore eyes… and backs, and calves, and whatever else can plague a 40+ year old man. The team needs to be careful not to rush him, but his return as the number three starter will be a huge upgrade over whatever garbage we throw out there in the meantime.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is more to this rotation than just Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
This season, there has been a lot of questioning of Brad Penny’s abilities. While he may be sitting on a poor 5.16 ERA, and may be default winner of the inglorious “will it be Penny or Smoltz who actually works out?” contest, there is really a lot to like about Big Brad. He’s got a low walk rate (2.73 BB/9), his fastball velocity is way up from last year (avg. FB velocity: 2008 – 92.4 mph; 2009 – 94.0 mph), and his ERA is currently suffering from some bad BABIP and a poor strand rate.
In short, this guy is a league average pitcher who would go six innings a night on a better defensive team. And, as a wise man once said, if your #4 or #5 starter is league average, you’re in good shape.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox are the owner of one of the worst defenses in the league, and when your defense is this bad, no starter or Act of God can make it any better. Fangraphs.com credits Penny with a 4.52 FIP ERA on the season, although I’m a little more pessimistic about his prospects with such a terrible defense behind him, projecting Penny for a 4.92 mERA the rest of the way.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking Penny should be replaced. His ERA is not his fault. It’s this awful, AWFUL defense. Oh, and if you were wondering: No. Cristian Guzman will not make it any better. This is something we will all have to collectively sweat out until October, then shower off in November.
For the proponents of Chicken Little and the sky is falling, there are some gaping holes in this team, far larger than there have been in recent memory.
The days of the megalith offense that is the Boston Red Sox are over. This is the first time since 2002 that David Ortiz won’t be able to put this team on his back and carry it through September. Even Manny’s comparable, but slightly less talented step-brother, Jason Bay, may not be able to contribute at full strength given his recent leg problems.
Further compounding these issues is the fact that there is no safe fifth starter on the horizon. Now that fail-safe Justin Monsterson is gone, John Smoltz has been DFA’d, and Buchholz cannot remember how to throw a fastball, that “ridiculous pitching depth” of April is wearing very thin. Even Daisuke won’t be back until September. Would someone please get Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa some Wheaties?
But, before we all jump ship like the Titanic, remember that there is no perfect team, the division is still within striking distance, and the Wild Card is still in the home team’s hands. Should the Sox play in October, with the injury woes in the past, don’t bet against them.
Losing streaks have a special place in our hearts because of how bleak things seem and how desperate we all become. However, slumps are never all they’re cracked up to be. After all, “the great ones always figure it out.”
If you’ve ever seen Goodfellas, you’d be keen to remember Henry Hill’s famous words of advice from his father, “When you’re down you’re never as low as it seems, and when you’re up, you’re never as high as it seems.” While you should never trust a mobster, the beleaguered Sox fan should heed his advice: Keep the Faith.

Categories: Brad Penny Cristian Guzman Daisuke Matsuzaka David Ortiz Jason Bay Jon Lester Josh Beckett Junichi Tazawa Michael Bowden Tim Wakefield

6 Responses to “Time to Count Your Chips” Subscribe

  1. hpike33 August 11, 2009 at 5:41 AM #

    First of all this is close to the same defensive alignment that was arguably the best in the majors only a few years out.
    Secondly I think it is unfair to call whoever we throw after Lester and Beckett "garbage" Both Penny and Laptop have pitched their hearts out and I think Penny has done a fine job for what we expected.
    All is not lost, Jason Bay is back and seems to have his batspeed back up, Pedroia is starting to flash the pop we have been waiting for, and although he was 0-5 last night we now have one of the best offensive catchers in the game- thats gotta mean something.

  2. jvwalt August 11, 2009 at 7:37 AM #

    It is surprising that the team defensive stats are so bad, especially since the FO has been trying to prioritize better defense.
    If I were to guess, I'd say the problem areas are SS, 3B, and LF — although LF shouldn't be any worse than last season, when it was either Manny or Bay. (As we have discussed before, Bay looks like he should be a good outfielder, but his stats are in Manny territory.) It's hard to believe we have defensive issues at C, 1B, 2B, CF, or RF, but it'd be interesting to see position-specific numbers if they exist.

  3. Joe Veno August 11, 2009 at 8:07 AM #

    Ellsbury's UZR has been terrible. I don't know why. Maybe it is just statistical gibberish. I can't imagine it is as bad as it has been according to the metrics.

  4. Mike August 11, 2009 at 8:25 AM #

    nice rationalization, Mike. From what I have seen, this team still lacks that sparkplug that would enable them to have a fighting chance at the division. Maybe that spark is Victor Martinez, maybe not. I hope they find some semblance of that very soon.
    By the way, you are correct in that Ray Liotta said the above quote, but it was mentioned in "Blow," not "Goodfellas."

  5. Mike Silver August 11, 2009 at 8:49 AM #

    Oh I can't believe that. I knew there was something wrong when I couldn't find it in the IMDB quotes.
    Nice call Mike.
    In response to the other comments, the defense is ranked 29th in defensive efficiency according to Baseball Prospectus. Hard to believe when we've had such good defenses the past few years, huh?
    In terms of Ellsbury, his UZR is horrendous this year, as Joe said (-11.4, down from 16.5 in 2008). That's a big part of the problem, although, UZR and the other defensive metrics are notorious for being schizophrenic.
    That doesn't absolve Ellsbury, though. From when I've watched him I always feel like he makes too many corrections in his routes, which hurts his ability to get to balls.
    I still want Coco Crisp back, as bad as that bat was. Who doesn't love seeing those diving grabs in the alleys?

  6. Sean O August 11, 2009 at 11:17 AM #

    Coco levitated. It was surreal.