With the Red Sox sitting on top of the AL East world, albeit by a slim half-game margin, there’s really not a lot from which we can complain. Sure, we could complain about John Lackey (and I’m sure I will at least once in this piece), but Darryl and Charlie already did a good job of breaking down Lackey’s last start. Instead, with the Red Sox news cycle running at a rampant pace recently, I thought I’d provide a few updates, observations, and thoughts about everything that’s been going on.
According to Mark Miller of Yahoo! Sports, Josh Beckett’s will miss his start on Saturday due what’s apparently become an intense case of “intestinal turmoil.” While there was some initial speculation that Alfredo Aceves would start in his place, it appears that Thursday’s off day has allowed Terry Francona to bump Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller up in the rotation by a day. Provided his recovery continues as expected, Beckett will pitch the series opener in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Cliff Lee is scheduled to be on the mound for the Phillies. It should be a great match-up!
A-Gon/Ortiz Defensive Shift
According to Gordon Edes at ESPN Boston, Francona hasn’t made any decisions regarding how they’ll handle the David Ortiz situation during the Red Sox’s nine game road trip through the National League. Though Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz have reportedly been taking fungoes in 1B and RF respectively during pre-game warm-ups, the team is waiting to see how the matchups fall out before making any decisions. More information should become available in the next day or so regarding their decision. My fingers are crossed that it doesn’t end up happening.
In case you missed it (and I can’t imagine you did), John Lackey’s press conference on Tuesday afternoon was incredibly short, but absolutely epic. After being asked if he’d any trouble gripping the ball in the fourth inning, Lackey replied:
“I don’t know. You guys are going to write what you want to write. Whatever.”
Ok, then. Sounds like someone was still a little cranky. In a discussion with e-migo and all-around good guy, Nick Underhill of MassLive (his excellent piece on Lackey is available here), I asked him if Lackey made the “W” sign a la the movie Clueless when he replied “Whatever.” Sadly, he did not.
Afterwards, Peter Abraham of Boston Globe wrote a pretty fair and balanced piece, providing some commentary on the events that occurred during the 90 second question and answer session.
“Lackey is signed through the end of the 2014 season. He wasn’t drafted by the Red Sox or obtained via a trade. He chose to come here knowing this was a market where fans care deeply about baseball and where the media attention is focused on the team. No player spends eight years in the majors without knowing what places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia are all about. It’s great when you win and it’s brutal when you lose. That’s just how it is.
Lackey has 3.5 years left on his contract and they’re going to be brutal ones if he can’t come to grips with the atmosphere here.”
Abraham brings up an excellent point. Lackey chose to pitch for Boston. He knew what type of environment he was entering when he signed, so he should’ve been mentally prepared to deal with the highs and lows by the time he arrived at Spring Training in 2010. Though there are clearly external distractions, such as his wife’s struggle with breast cancer, that are weighing on his psyche, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use those outside concerns as an excuse for his truculent behavior. Known as a pitcher with a bulldog mentality, Lackey’s fiery attitude has a pattern of boiling over with both teammates and the media. He’s had his share of press conferences where he was preceived as being irritated or difficult. His latest outburst seems like another case of Lackey being Lackey.
Do you remember when everyone screaming for Theo to dump Salty and trade for another catcher? On May 5th, he was hitting a deplorable .194/.242/.258. Since then, he’s hit .289/.360/.544. With a .362 BABIP during that time, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to keep up that pace. Still, there’s no reason he can’t continue to produce a wOBA between .320-.340 for the rest of the season. Provided he provides decent (but not spectacular defense), he should be able to provide 2.0-2.5 wins above the replacement level this season.
Did you hear that home runs are on the decline? I guess someone forgot to tell Jon Lester. Through 15 starts, he’s already allowed as many home runs this year (14) as he did in all of 2010. The culprit? Poor luck on fly balls has probably been partially to blame as his HR/FB rate is uncharacteristically high at 15.1%. Another culpit is likely his curve ball. In seasons past, his curve has been one of Lester’s biggest and most effective weapons. This season, it’s been worth -8.4 runs (per Fangraphs pitch value type scale), making it the least effective curveball in baseball. Between 2008 and 2010, his curve was valued at +18 runs combined.
In my first article for Fire Brand, I expressed that the data backed up my opinion that Ortiz should never be allowed to bat against lefties–ever. This season, Ortiz has made me look like a bit of a fool. Through 74 games, he’s produced not only a shockingly impressive .437 wOBA against LHP, but also 24% line drive rate. This is one of the few cases where I’m glad I was wrong.
While Clay’s currently on the disabled list, I wanted to point out that it looks like he’s really turned the corner. While his year-to-date peripherals don’t show any improvement, his command showed massive leaps in improvement over his last eight starts. Since his start on May 7th, Clay went 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA and a 43/13 K/BB in 49 innings. Hopefully, he doesn’t lose any ground after missing a few starts with a lower back injury. Improved command will be his key to long-term success in the majors.