When Winning Isn’t Enough, Crawford & Gonzalez at the Plate

John W Henry New Owner watches from the stands Liverpool 2010/11 Everton V Liverpool (2-0) 17/10/10 Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

When Winning Isn’t Enough

Perhaps the biggest take away from the 2010 season was that the Boston Red Sox’ popularity has waned significantly since their 2004 World Championship. Not surprisingly, with the fan base’s angst relieved, the daily fervor and obsession began to fade -- taking with it the team’s profitability.

2007’s championship dealt another blow, as success (and, to another degree, championships) became somewhat routine.

The Red Sox’ 2010 campaign hammered that point home as television ratings and overall interest in the team took a considerable hit. Theories as to why this occurred often cite poor performance as the primary culprit.

However, this logic seems to gloss over the fact that, by all accounts, Boston’s following was diminishing even while the club was in the playoff hunt. If the playoff chase is primary mover in team interest, then ratings and team interest shouldn’t have fallen until September. However, they were slumping far earlier as both fair-weather and hardcore fans, alike, dropped out of the running.

This left the organization in a precarious position. In a market big on bite but relatively small on population, that ravenous fanbase was what kept Boston among the elite in profitability and, by corollary, personnel spending and success.

With this new and unfamiliar uncertainty, the organization seems to have mounted a response:

Go out and make headlines.

The Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford acquisitions may be a telling peek into the club’s changing paradigm -- one where personnel moves have as much to do about building a winner as they do about generating excitement.

And if this off-season is any indication, the club plans on reviving their lethargic fan base by giving them some news toys -- something to get excited about.

And though these acquisitions are, by all accounts, great moves for the team, there is something a bit unsettling about their nature.

In many ways, the departure from the club’s tight-pursed, efficient approach suggests a bit of weakness.

Theo Epstein doesn’t enjoy signing long, expensive deals for free agents. Theo Epstein doesn’t like giving up premium prospects for expiring free-agents-to-be.

Under the Epstein Doctrine, players are merely serial numbers who combine to form a model of efficiency for the rest of the league to follow.

However, this current offseason (the Carl Crawford deal in particular) has been an abandonment of that canon, which begs the question: has the Red Sox’ business model changed?

Are the Boston Red Sox feeling an uncomfortable squeeze from a shrinking fan base?

It may be so. It may be that the team needs to arouse it’s fan base to hit internal sales and profitability quotas. It would make sense, as both players were acquired just days before tickets went on sale to the general public -- did we mention the Christmas buying season is in full swing?

Whatever the case may be, 2011 could be setting the stage for some changes in operations over the next few seasons -- or they could be setting the stage for more financial uncertainty.

If the Crawford and Gonzalez signings “work” in drumming up interest in the club, we may see more big free agent splashes in years to come; while low-profile, but similarly valuable, deals such as Mike Cameron’s take a back seat.

This is a particularly interesting scenario since there is no telling how long the halo effect of these signings will last. One year? Two years? Several months?

It’s anyone’s guess.

If, on the other hand, they fail to increase viewership and revenue streams, then there is a possibility that the Sox will have to rein in spending over the next few years while they sort out their new position in baseball’s financial hierarchy.

If the decrease in popularity lasts for a prolonged period, this could have dire affects on the team’s on-field success as the front office pulls back from personnel spending. This, in turn, would mean fewer playoff appearances, which may drive down interest, revenue streams, and team spending.

A vicious cycle … and all unfortunate reminders that, at its heart, baseball really is a business.

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford at the Plate

What a week.

The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez make the Red Sox’ lineup one of the most formidable in the league. Crawford’s bat profiles very well as a top of the order hitter, while Gonzalez should challenge 120 RBI from the middle of the lineup.

Not surprisingly, both players check out as safe bets for 2011.

Gonzalez’ star looks to rise from the favorable offensive environs (as fellow writer Darryl Johnston pointed out on Wednesday), which should go a long way toward boosting his power numbers. He should have no problem challenging 40 homers in Fenway.

And, if he can, in fact, realize improve his power over seasons past, he may see a slight uptick in his walk totals. Data has shown that home run and isolated slugging percentages have a strong correlation with low zone percentages. Therefore, if Gonzalez becomes a 45 HR hitter in Fenway (as opposed of a 35 HR type in San Diego), he could see his OBP rise over the .400 mark -- with an outside shot at a 1.000 OPS.

If there is one knock on Gonzalez, it’s that he may benefit from reigning in his new-found aggressive approach. Had A Gonz managed to keep his O-Swing to a more manageable 26 percent (instead of 31.8 percent in 2010), he could have seen his OBP rise to as .413.

But that’s nitpicking.

Now that he’s in a media market fitting of his talent, he’ll be a household name in no time.

America, meet Adrian Gonzalez.

While he’s a very different hitter than his new teammate, we can make strikingly similar remarks about Crawford’s aggressive approach at the plate. While he has few flaws in his offensive game, perhaps one weakness is his penchant for offering at pitches outside the zone.

With an O-Swing of 35.6 percent last season (up from 31.0 in 2009), Crawford could stand to keep the bat on his shoulder a little more. As a result, pitchers baited him into chasing more often, resulting in a Zone Percentage decrease of six percent.

The Sox may want him to be more patient this season, but it’s anyone’s guess whether or not this will actually matter. While in many cases a rise in O-Swing can take a chunk out of a batter’s OBP, Crawford saw enough of a decrease in Zone Percentage to almost completely offset the effect on his walk rate.

Therefore, if Crawford reverted back to his old level of 31.0 percent O-Swing, two things could happen.

One, he could see an increase in his walk rate to a nine percent -- with an OBP north of .375.

The other, pitchers will adjust to the trend and stop throwing out of the zone, resulting a little to no change.

Given the options, maybe an adjustment is worth a shot. With Boston’s philosophy concerning patience at the plate, there’s a pretty good chance of that happening.

John W Henry New Owner watches from the stands Liverpool 2010/11 Everton V Liverpool (2-0) 17/10/10 Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

When Winning Isn’t Enough

Perhaps the biggest take away from the 2010 season was that the Boston Red Sox’ popularity has waned significantly since their 2004 World Championship. Not surprisingly, with the fan base’s angst relieved, the daily fervor and obsession began to fade — taking with it the team’s profitability.

2007’s championship dealt another blow, as success (and, to another degree, championships) became somewhat routine.

The Red Sox’ 2010 campaign hammered that point home as television ratings and overall interest in the team took a considerable hit. Theories as to why this occurred often cite poor performance as the primary culprit.

However, this logic seems to gloss over the fact that, by all accounts, Boston’s following was diminishing even while the club was in the playoff hunt. If the playoff chase is primary mover in team interest, then ratings and team interest shouldn’t have fallen until September. However, they were slumping far earlier as both fair-weather and hardcore fans, alike, dropped out of the running.

This left the organization in a precarious position. In a market big on bite but relatively small on population, that ravenous fanbase was what kept Boston among the elite in profitability and, by corollary, personnel spending and success.

With this new and unfamiliar uncertainty, the organization seems to have mounted a response:

Go out and make headlines.

The Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford acquisitions may be a telling peek into the club’s changing paradigm — one where personnel moves have as much to do about building a winner as they do about generating excitement.

And if this off-season is any indication, the club plans on reviving their lethargic fan base by giving them some news toys — something to get excited about.

And though these acquisitions are, by all accounts, great moves for the team, there is something a bit unsettling about their nature.

In many ways, the departure from the club’s tight-pursed, efficient approach suggests a bit of weakness.

Theo Epstein doesn’t enjoy signing long, expensive deals for free agents. Theo Epstein doesn’t like giving up premium prospects for expiring free-agents-to-be.

Under the Epstein Doctrine, players are merely serial numbers who combine to form a model of efficiency for the rest of the league to follow.

However, this current offseason (the Carl Crawford deal in particular) has been an abandonment of that canon, which begs the question: has the Red Sox’ business model changed?

Are the Boston Red Sox feeling an uncomfortable squeeze from a shrinking fan base?

It may be so. It may be that the team needs to arouse it’s fan base to hit internal sales and profitability quotas. It would make sense, as both players were acquired just days before tickets went on sale to the general public — did we mention the Christmas buying season is in full swing?

Whatever the case may be, 2011 could be setting the stage for some changes in operations over the next few seasons — or they could be setting the stage for more financial uncertainty.

If the Crawford and Gonzalez signings “work” in drumming up interest in the club, we may see more big free agent splashes in years to come; while low-profile, but similarly valuable, deals such as Mike Cameron’s take a back seat.

This is a particularly interesting scenario since there is no telling how long the halo effect of these signings will last. One year? Two years? Several months?

It’s anyone’s guess.

If, on the other hand, they fail to increase viewership and revenue streams, then there is a possibility that the Sox will have to rein in spending over the next few years while they sort out their new position in baseball’s financial hierarchy.

If the decrease in popularity lasts for a prolonged period, this could have dire affects on the team’s on-field success as the front office pulls back from personnel spending. This, in turn, would mean fewer playoff appearances, which may drive down interest, revenue streams, and team spending.

A vicious cycle … and all unfortunate reminders that, at its heart, baseball really is a business.

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford at the Plate

What a week.

The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez make the Red Sox’ lineup one of the most formidable in the league. Crawford’s bat profiles very well as a top of the order hitter, while Gonzalez should challenge 120 RBI from the middle of the lineup.

Not surprisingly, both players check out as safe bets for 2011.

Gonzalez’ star looks to rise from the favorable offensive environs (as fellow writer Darryl Johnston pointed out on Wednesday), which should go a long way toward boosting his power numbers. He should have no problem challenging 40 homers in Fenway.

And, if he can, in fact, realize improve his power over seasons past, he may see a slight uptick in his walk totals. Data has shown that home run and isolated slugging percentages have a strong correlation with low zone percentages. Therefore, if Gonzalez becomes a 45 HR hitter in Fenway (as opposed of a 35 HR type in San Diego), he could see his OBP rise over the .400 mark — with an outside shot at a 1.000 OPS.

If there is one knock on Gonzalez, it’s that he may benefit from reigning in his new-found aggressive approach. Had A Gonz managed to keep his O-Swing to a more manageable 26 percent (instead of 31.8 percent in 2010), he could have seen his OBP rise to as .413.

But that’s nitpicking.

Now that he’s in a media market fitting of his talent, he’ll be a household name in no time.

America, meet Adrian Gonzalez.

While he’s a very different hitter than his new teammate, we can make strikingly similar remarks about Crawford’s aggressive approach at the plate. While he has few flaws in his offensive game, perhaps one weakness is his penchant for offering at pitches outside the zone.

With an O-Swing of 35.6 percent last season (up from 31.0 in 2009), Crawford could stand to keep the bat on his shoulder a little more. As a result, pitchers baited him into chasing more often, resulting in a Zone Percentage decrease of six percent.

The Sox may want him to be more patient this season, but it’s anyone’s guess whether or not this will actually matter. While in many cases a rise in O-Swing can take a chunk out of a batter’s OBP, Crawford saw enough of a decrease in Zone Percentage to almost completely offset the effect on his walk rate.

Therefore, if Crawford reverted back to his old level of 31.0 percent O-Swing, two things could happen.

One, he could see an increase in his walk rate to a nine percent — with an OBP north of .375.

The other, pitchers will adjust to the trend and stop throwing out of the zone, resulting a little to no change.

Given the options, maybe an adjustment is worth a shot. With Boston’s philosophy concerning patience at the plate, there’s a pretty good chance of that happening.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford

5 Responses to “When Winning Isn’t Enough, Crawford & Gonzalez at the Plate” Subscribe

  1. doctorogres December 13, 2010 at 9:04 AM #

    The whole idea is that in this case the team's priority (winning now and in the future) and the general consensus blockbuster FA happened to coincide. They followed these guys around for a half a year and commissioned a study on body type aging. I think this article is fairly accurate: http://sports.espn.go.com/boston/mlb/columns/stor

    This blog seems to take the position that both signings are against the core business philosophy of the organization. I don't think that's the case. Seems like we have to agree to disagree for now.

    • Mike Silver December 13, 2010 at 4:41 PM #

      Very interesting article, one I hadn’t read yet and it shows a lot of careful planning on the part of the Red Sox.

      I still have a strong feeling, however, that there was heavy pressure to make headlines this off season and that had an impact on the choice of free agents.

      I like that the Sox were following Werth, Crawford, and Gonzalez around for a half season, but I would like to know what James found in his aging study. Although speed players may “hold their value” until they’re 35-36, I would what percentage of players do over 7 years — due to the threat of injuries, regression, etc.

  2. GreggB December 13, 2010 at 10:50 AM #

    Agree with doctorogres. The Sox will look at what his available and market conditions and make appropriate decisions. The signings this year aren't any more indicative of a fundamental change than last year's signing of Beltre for one year was. They look at what is out there and at the long and short term interests of the team and make the best decisions they can. They are certainly intelligent enough to know the building a long-term consistent winning baseball team is THE fundamental driver of value in their organization and they are not about to start compromising that to try to entice the masses by short-term decisions. Fan interest will wax and wane a bit, that is the nature of the beast.

    • Gerry December 13, 2010 at 4:12 PM #

      Good insights from you and Mike. IMO the FO absolutely had to respond to a 36% drop in fan participation in their media and weakening ticket sales. At the same time, injury and on-field issues of 2010 required re-thinking current strategies during this RECESSION, so while a good business plan must be flexible to address unanticipated and outside the box needs, that doesn't necessarily change their basic philosophy of efficiency.

      IMO, the Gonzo & CC signings ultimately do reflect their philosophy. With a remarkable nearly $100MM off the books in 2010-2011 from an aging core the Sox added two young, long term high impact stars who significantly bolster the offense & defense of a relatively inexpensive ($40M?) remaining core (Youk, PD, Ells, Jed, Lester, Buchh, Bard, Salty.)

      For the foreseeable this allows the Sox to fill the roster with cost-controlled "kids" at the end of the so-called bridge. This all happens at a time when both Gonzo & CC first became available and while Kalish, Reddick, Nava, Navarro, Iglesias, Anderson, Doubront, Bowden, Expo, Lavarnway, etc. are at or near MLB ready, with another big wave just a few years away. It is entirely possible the Sox payroll will decline even as Sox playoff chances improve with a younger, more exciting team. That is efficient, fits their philosophy, and could mean dynasty for the new decade.

      Exciting? Who doesn't want to see how many bases will be stolen by Ells, PD, CC and how many pitchers they send to the asylum? Or how many taters Gonzo, Youk & Papi will hit? Or just how tight an OF of CC, Ells, JD, Cam can be? Or how good will Lester & Buchholz get? Or will Lowrie win the SS job only to lose it to Iglesias? This team has lots & lots of drama along with its speed, defense, power and pitching and, if the economy allows it, will again have fanatic support.

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