Category Archives: Red Sox

BASEBALL AND TECHNOLOGY

In one of his recent thrillers, ‘Origin’, published this year, Dan Brown, author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’, has a character that says ‘ ..the meek were supposed to inherit the earth, but instead it has gone to the young – the technically inclined, those who stare into video screens rather than into their own souls.’

I’ll bet a lot of my readers are wondering what that quote is doing in a column entitled Baseball World. It was the phrase ‘the technically inclined’ that caught my baseball eye.

In baseball, probably more so than in any other sport, ‘those who stare into video screens’ have changed the game more in the first few years of this century than it had changed in the previous hundred plus years.

Granted there were a few changes in the game before computers began to take over our world.

Until the Williams Shift was invented by Cleveland Indians’ Player Manager Lou Boudreau on July 14, 1946, infielders and outfielders generally stayed within their assigned traditional areas. There had been some minor shifts in players’ positions based upon the tendency of hitters to pull the ball, notably Babe Ruth and Cy Williams, a notorious pull hitter, but none so radical as the one Boudreau employed after Ted drove in eight runs in the first game of a doubleheader against the Indians that day.

In Boudreau’s version, the first baseman played directly behind the first base bag on the line, the shortstop, in this case Boudreau himself, moved to the normal second base position, the second baseman played on the outfield grass 30-50 feet beyond the infield, the third baseman stayed in almost his normal position and the center fielder moved into right center and the right fielder played almost at the wall in right field.

In the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox that year, Cardinal Manager Eddie Dyer used modifications of the shift against Ted. Ted went only 5 for 25 in the World Series against the shift after batting .342 during the season, but obviously that’s a very small sample. ( It is interesting to note that, against the shift, in Game 3, Ted bunted to third for a base hit with the infield shifted. )

Over the years, the shift has been utilized more and more as Managers began to rely on statistical analysis in making their moves. This trend is not just in fielding positions but also in the selection of relief pitchers based upon their record against specific batters. Where the Manager traditionally took into account the fact that a left handed hitter generally didn’t do as well against a left handed pitcher as a right hander and vice versa when deciding what reliever or pinch hitter to use, now there are statistics available showing what each batter has done against each individual pitcher and how that performance differs from situation to situation.

Cubs Manager, Joe Maddon, when he was at Tampa Bay, probably did more to popularize the shift as a regular tool than any other manager until today when some type of shift is used against almost every batter.

Baseball has changed dramatically in response to the advances in technology. Statisticians, particularly those with the Society of American Baseball Research, have done studies that indicate that the bunt is a waste of an out and, as a consequence it has almost disappeared from the game, even as a sacrifice to get a runner in scoring position. For example, in 2000, the average American League team sacrifice bunted 40 times and, by 2017, the average was down to 18 times.

Between the elimination of the bunt and the emphasis on hitting the ball over the shifted fielders for home runs, the average team in baseball hit a home run in 2017, the year of the homer, every 26 at bats compared to just every 31 at bats in 2000. In 2000, the average American League team hit 192 home runs and that number increased to 211 by 2017, a 10% increase.

Last year, despite the largest number of homers ever recorded in a single year, American League teams averaged just 763 runs scored and in all of baseball the average was 753. In 2000, the average American League team scored 857 runs and in all of baseball the teams average 832 runs. From 2000 until 2017, the average number of runs scored per team in the American League increased by 11%.

As far as batting averages are concerned, the average American League team’s average fell from .276 in 2000 to .256 in 2017, a decrease of 7%.

With home runs increasing and batting averages decreasing over the eighteen year period, teams were still scoring 11% more runs in 2000 than they are today.

It would appear that the shift and the emphasis on statistics is working because batting averages are going down, however, there is no way to calculate the effect the emphasis on home runs has had on decreasing the average. Sluggers like Baltimore’s Chris Davis, for example, hit 85 home runs from 2015-2016 but struck out 427 times and batted a poor .241.

Of course, on the other side, all the statistical experts have their formulas to determine which pitcher should pitch to which batter, what he should throw in what situation and that effects the ups and downs of hitting and scoring as well.

Unfortunately, while baseball is trying to figure out how to shorten the length of the game to increase fan interest, no one is concerned that the thing that brings the most fans into the ball game, not the home run, but the action that occurs when the runner makes his way around the bases and crosses the plate is happening less and less frequently.

No one has or will ever prove that, in the totality of a baseball game, shifting the fielders all over the field and relying on statistics, which merely reflect past performance, makes a better team or a better game. As the people who try to sell us on buying their recommended stocks say in their disclaimers ‘ past performance is no guarantee of future success ‘ and that is nowhere truer than on the baseball field, as every Red Sox fan is painfully aware.

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RED SOX ARE HERE TO STAY

Last night’s game between the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox was a classic pitchers’ duel. The Braves’ Julio Teheran and the Sox Rick Porcello dueled for six innings with each pitcher giving up just three hits and not allowing a batter to reach third base.

In the seventh, Jackie Bradley, the Red Sox streaky hitting center fielder, homered for the only run of the game. He had driven in the winning run in Boston’s 12th inning win at Houston about 20 hours earlier.

The Sox bullpen, with Robby Ross coming in to put out the fire in the seventh and Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel shutting out the Braves in the eighth and ninth finished it up and the Sox ended up with a 1-0 win.

It was the 12th game in a row, dating back to August 6th of last year, in which Porcello had started and pitched six or more innings, the longest streak of any pitcher in baseball. In that time, he has won eight and lost four and posted a 3.25 ERA.

The Sox will start their 217 million dollar pitcher, David Price, against the Braves tonight. Price had a bad game his last time out but is a legitimate Ace, probably one of the three or four best pitchers in the league.

Knuckle baller Steven Wright has a 1.40 ERA in three starts, even though he got the loss in two of them. In his last two starts, aside from one bad pitch to Colby Rasmus that resulted in a grand slam, Clay Buchholz has given up just one earned run in 12 1/3 innings.

In the bull pen, in addition to Kimbrel and Uehara, Junichi Tazawa has been in ten games., pitched 8 2/3 innings, has 11 strikeouts and has given up just one run. Heath Hembree, brought up from Pawtucket a week ago, has been unscored upon in three games and has struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings.

With starter Eduardo Rodriguez and reliever Carson Smith on the way back from the disabled list and Joe Kelly not too far away from coming back, this Red Sox team’s pitching may be as good as many of us have expected.

Offensively, they have scored more runs than any other team in the American League. Don’t look for this Red Sox team to go away soon. They have the ability to be in it for the long haul.

I am still looking for and expecting a classic World Series, played in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

FARRELL SHOULD GO

The Boston Red Sox have had two of the worst consecutive seasons in their history, finishing in last place in both 2014 and 2015. The last time the Red Sox finished in last place two years in a row was 1929 and 1930.

According to baseballreference.com, the Red Sox have finished in last place just four times since 1930, once under Bobby Valentine, in 2012, once under Butch Hobson, in 1992 and twice under John Farrell.

In the last two years, the Red Sox have won 149 games while losing 175 under Manager John Farrell after they won the World Series in his first year as the Sox Manager.

As everyone knows, the Sox were a vastly improved team over the last month and a half of 2015 under Torey Lovullo who took over when Farrell was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for cancer.

After treatment for his cancer, Farrell was brought back as Manager despite his team’s terrible performance with him managing. Many people, myself included, felt that Farrell would not have been back this year if he had not become ill.

Now, less than a month before the season is scheduled to start, Farrell is reported to have been in a relationship with a reporter covering his team in what appears to be a clear conflict of interest.

Farrell should be given his walking papers. The Red Sox have bent over backwards for John Farrell and have been more than fair in their treatment of him.

There is a young talented team down there in Fort Myers just waiting to have a great season. They don’t need the distraction this ‘affair’ is generating with more and more stories and talk show rants every day. It isn’t as if they have to look far for a replacement. The best Manager they have had since Terry Francona is sitting right there as the Bench Coach.

The Sox should take action quickly to get this matter out of the way so Torey Lovullo can get this team on an even keel before the real games begin.

SOX NEED NEW HITTING COACH

Prior to the All Star Break, the Boston Red Sox were showing some signs of life. They had won nine of their last fourteen games and were just 6 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. In the last series, against the red hot Yankees, the Sox had lost two of three games but had won four consecutive series before that.

Despite the fact that they were 42-47, in last place, they were only three games out of second place and had been gaining ground on the leaders.

One week after the break ended, the Sox are still in last place but now they are 42-54, 12 games behind the first place Yankees and nine games out of second. In six days, they have lost seven in a row and been outscored 39-13. If you do the math, you will realize that that’s an average of almost six runs per game they have given up while scoring less than two.

All year long Red Sox management and staff have bemoaned the fact that their pitching had been terrible. They unloaded their pitching coach Juan Nieves in May because the staff was not performing. The best pitching staff in the world cannot win consistently with under two runs per game support.

The Sox have a new hitting coach this year in Chili Davis. The veterans on this team, ( with the exception of Dustin Pedroia, and I don’t consider Brock Holt or Xander Bogaerts veterans, ) Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and David Ortiz are all hitting for significantly lower averages than last year. In order, they have dropped 20, 19, 42, 21 and 29 batting average points over last year.

Two other experienced players who have spent most of the year at Pawtucket because of their lack of hitting, Daniel Nava and Alan Craig, dropped from
.270 to .159 and .215 to .135 respectively. The Sox, who hit .277 as a team in 2013, are hitting .253 right now.

Pitching is the name of the game but without effective hitting to back it up pitching can’t do it alone. The Red Sox, in case you haven’t figured it out, need help with their hitting. They obviously are not getting it from their hitting coach. It’s time for a change.