Tagged: Clay Buchholz

A Roll of the Dice

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It really was a roll of the dice–a gamble–when the Red Sox sent Dice-K out to the mound for the first time in three months. When someone rolls the dice, there are many possible outcomes, and it is almost impossible to guess which one they are going to end up with. But sometimes, when the game is on the line, you just have to take a chance and hope for the best. 

That’s what the Red Sox did. There are a bunch of Dice-Ks that the fans, as well as the organization are familiar with. There’s the 2007 Dice-K, who was synonymous with the Dice-K that the Red Sox saw and signed in Japan. There’s the 2008 Dice-K, who had a nice record on paper, and even a nice ERA, but the outings were messy. Then there’s the 2009 Dice-K, the one whose luck had finally run out. 
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At the beginning of the season, Dice-K was considered by most, including myself, an integral part of the rotation. It was hard to imagine a starting staff without Dice-K heart attacks, as long as we got out of those situations alive. Life without Dice-K not only became imaginable, it became a reality… pretty early on during the 2009 season. 
The Red Sox took an agonizing step this season: essentially sacrificing Dice-K’s expensive contract. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be when a player that is worth a lot of money isn’t performing up to the standards that are expected of them (hence the reason I prefer incentive contracts). However, it’s not like the Red Sox signed him for only one season–they really invested in him. I’ve never invested in anything really big before, so I’m probably not too qualified to speak on this, but I would think that if you invest in something, you don’t just want it for short term, you want it to last a long time. 
So even if the Red Sox sacrificed Dice-K’s season, perhaps it will benefit him, and in turn the Red Sox, in the long run. We could use a good Dice-K, the one we scouted in Japan, for the next couple of years. 
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When I think of DIce-K’s situation, I am subtly reminded of Clay Buchholz’s season last year. Clay Buchholz’s situation is a bit different because he had a lot of promise from his golden no-hitter in 2007, and a nice spring in 2008. He simply wasn’t ready yet, so he was sent back to the minors for some extra work, and as you all can see, it has really paid off during this season. Dice-K didn’t even start out on the right foot in 2009, but like Clay, he was sent down for some extra work, and thus far, it has paid off: we took a chance and rolled the dice, and the outcome was worth it. 
Taking a chance is pretty risky in September when the Red Sox are in the middle of what was a pretty tight Wild Card race. Luckily, not only did Dice-K pull through, but the rest of the offense has as well. Almost every single game, a more than sufficient amount of run support has come from a rejuvenated offense (considering everyone decided to go into a collective slump in August). 
Hopefully, this past series against the Angels is indicative of how the American League Division Series might be. Big come-from-behind rallies, and exhilarating ninth inning rallies. Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? Especially against the Angels. You all do remember how we won that series in 2008 don’t you? On a walk-off single, similar to Alex Gonzalez’s of this past week. 
‘Exhilarating’ doesn’t even begin to describe walk-off wins, it’s an entire atmosphere. You’re on the edge of your seat, biting your nails. Your head is pounding, and you’re instructing the batter as if he can hear you. And you’re hoping with all of your heart that he’ll get that little hit that will bring the runner home. And when it happens, it’s like Christmas morning. You gasp when the ball hits the bat, and then you jump up from your seat and start jumping around the room screaming like an idiot, but you don’t even care because you are so ecstatic. 
There are some teams out there who will clinch their playoff spot early on in September. No competition, no need to really play anymore because they already made it. But what kind of mentality is that to have going into the playoffs? It may be nerve racking, but it’s exciting when it goes down to the end. And I think that momentum is important when going into the playoffs. 
Before I end, I want to go back to Dice-K. When he left the mound in June, he left to a chorus of boos. Red Sox fans, and baseball fans, are ruthless, but normally, they aren’t wrong when they boo a player. Dice-K deserved the boos, he didn’t come into the season ready to play baseball. 
But I think that both Red Sox and baseball fans should appreciate his change in attitude, and obviously the change in the way he is pitching. Both are for the better. Dice-K wants to make up for letting his teammates and the fans down. He knows that he has a responsibility for this team, and he wants to make up for what he couldn’t provide early on. So when he left to the chorus of cheers, the complete opposite, it must have been one of the best feelings he had ever had as a baseball player. 

Hindsight (Biases)

During my sophomore year, I tried to make connections between baseball with some of my classes to help myself understand it better. As my junior year starts up, I’ll try to do the same. I have a feeling that physics will relate a lot more to baseball than chemistry did (but then again, what does chemistry relate to that is of any importance at all?), and I already have a way that psychology can relate to our perspectives on the game. Though I’m sure Emily is a lot more qualified to talk about that than I am. 

As the season progresses, many of us have come to realize that many of our offseason acquisitions have not performed in the way that we expected them too. It may be easy to point fingers at our brilliant general manager, Theo Epstein, but before any of us do any such thing, I think it is important to experiment with empathy, travel back in time a bit, and use our imaginations. 
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You are now sitting in Theo Epstein’s office, sipping some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and constantly making phone calls with agents. It’s late December, and you are reflecting over the 2008 season, and looking at areas where you can improve. Clay Buchholz was not quite ready for the 2008 season, so it is evident that the Red Sox need a fifth starter. It is certainly wise to consider the options of signing a high profile free agent such as CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett, but would such an acquisition truly be necessary with aces already in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Dice-K (remember, we have no idea yet that Dice-K’s season would look nothing like 2008’s 18-3 record). 
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Let me go on a quick tangent on Dice-K before I make any significant phone calls. On paper, his 18-3 record looks stellar, a Cy Young contender if you didn’t look at how many innings he pitched per game. Dice-K got really lucky during the 2008 season. He had a knack for loading the bases with no outs, and getting out of it unscathed. In other words, he got really lucky. Sure the Red Sox may have won most of the time, but it is inefficient to have your starter go only five or six innings because he racks up his pitch count early on. Not to mention it puts a massive strain on the bullpen. I think that Dice-K’s case is very similar to the “downfall” that Brad Lidge is experiencing in Philadelphia. I’m not trying to take away any credibility from his perfect season, but I think that it is a valid comparison. 
Back to the phone calls. Considering the Red Sox have four quality starters, it is unnecessary to sign a high profile free agent. It would be more wise to sign a “low risk” acquisition in a veteran pitcher that could guarantee a lot of success. The problem with signing high profile free agents is their massive contracts. What if they don’t perform? What if AJ Burnett continues his injury woes, and he can’t pitch effectively? 
This is why I like incentive contracts so much. Too bad they are mainly used with these low risk acquisitions, and when I think of these, I tend to think of veteran players who are coming back from injuries or bad seasons who are looking for another chance. Obviously, signing them is a gamble, but it could turn out to be very beneficial. And regardless of their contributions on the field, I think that their contributions equate that or even surpass it. Having a veteran voice in the clubhouse for the younger players to talk to is always an advantage. 
In psychology, we learned a bit about ‘hindsight biases’, which basically means that when we look back on events, many of the consequences seem much more obvious than they actually were at the time. Think about who we signed. 
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John Smoltz is obviously a Hall of Fame pitcher, who had a great twenty year career with the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, his stint with the Red Sox did not work out, but was it really a bad signing? No. Would I have done it? Yes. Another thing to remember about this deal was that it was very similar to the deal that Curt Schilling signed for 2008. Neither of them worked out, but the incentives for signing them were valid. Plus, if Randy Johnson is still pitching, why can’t they? 
Another offseason acquisition that didn’t work out: Brad Penny. The same theory applied when signing him, but his history isn’t as convincing. However, it was only but 2007 that he came in second for the NL Cy Young. His 2008 season was anything but spectacular, but given an incentive laden contract, there is the opportunity for success. And if they incentives aren’t met? No big deal in the big picture. Penny was released, and both he and the Red Sox are moving on. 
Some have been disappointed with Rocco Baldelli also because he has spent a considerable amount of time on the Disabled List. Granted it’s a bit disappointing, but it’s not like we expected him to play every single day because we were well aware of his channelopathy disorder. The reason for acquiring him was so that he could be a valuable player coming off the bench. 
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In other words, I just think that these offseason acquisitions are very justifiable even if they didn’t work out. But now instead of looking at the offseason acquisitions, I’d like to look at our most recent acquisition: Billy Wagner. 
This trade reminded me a lot of the Eric Gagne one of 2007, a trade that I absolutely hated because I didn’t want to part with Kason Gabbard (luckily, we have him back now). However, I am much more open to this Billy Wagner acquisition because our bullpen band could really use an extra hand, the chorus is sounding a little shabby. 
Oh, and the bullpen could use some help too. After Justin Masterson left, it kind of threw off the bullpen in my opinion. We were calling a bunch of guys up from Pawtucket who simply weren’t ready yet. I think that this acquisition solidifies the bullpen and gives us a more definite notion of an eighth inning set up man. In a way, it will be redefining everyone’s role. 
I am very excited for September call ups–I am very anxious to see who will be up. I am really hoping that Michael Bowden gets another chance. I really don’t think that we can judge him on that poor outing against the Yankees. I am also very interested to see what is going to go on with who will be catching Tim Wakefield, because I think that Victor Martinez did a very solid job the other night. And if V-Mart can do the job, what use is George Kottaras? 

If I were a General Manager…

I’d be willing to bet that a lot of us our familiar with the musical: Fiddler on the Roof. At one point, the main character, Tevye day dreams about what he would do “if he were a rich man”. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may be a bad thing if I don’t remember the ending of the play considering I was a villager (with no lines) in the play when I was in seventh grade. I’m getting the feeling that he doesn’t become rich, but everyone ends up happy. 
Maybe the same can I apply as I share with you my daydreams about what I would do if I was Theo Epstein for a day. I doubt that I’m cut out for the general manager business though. I can only imagine the amount of stress and responsibility Theo has with putting together a team like the Red Sox each season. Nonetheless, it is a fun idea to entertain considering I’m constantly making suggestions as to what should be done. I wonder if I have enough stamina to be a general manager, a journalist, and a broadcaster (or even enough time). 
Before I talk about my fantastical crusade as a general manager, I have a few other things to get to. 
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I realized that I neglected to mention my thoughts on Casey Kelly in my last blog. For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, he was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008 not only as a pitcher, but as a shortstop as well. He spent the first half of this season pitching, and he will be spending the second half as a shortstop (from what I can remember of the report). I would actually be completely okay with him training as a shortstop, and holding off on the pitching aspect. The Red Sox organization is already full of great pitchers with a lot of potential. Shortstops? Not so much. 
I’m pretty convinced that ever since Nomar Garciaparra left in 2004, that there is a minor curse when it comes to shortstops. Hanley Ramirez, the star of the Marlins, was homegrown talent, but he isn’t playing for the Red Sox. Was it a mutually beneficial trade? Yes. Would I do the trade again? Absolutely. 
We signed Julio Lugo expecting him to be a pesky leadoff hitter like he was with the Rays. Unfortunately, that did not work out as he was designated for assignment and traded to the Cardinals a couple of days ago. Jed Lowrie is homegrown talent, but he has barely had a season. Nick Green (who must have been thoroughly exorcised considering he came from the Yankees) has been a pleasant surprise, but nothing outstanding, though I shouldn’t try to compare anyone to Nomar. 
Shortstop is currently our weakest position in my opinion, catching (I will address this later) coming in second. We need to have a legitimate “shortstop for the future” developing in the minors. 
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I really wish I had seen Mark Buehrle’s perfect game live, but as I am not a fan of the White Sox or Rays, I didn’t have some sort of crazy premonition that compelled me to watch the game. To put this feat in a historical context is really incredible, all of the statistics that come up amaze me. It’s kind of funny how people consider perfect games to be so exciting, yet technically speaking, nothing happens since the opposing team is literally shut down. It’s the beauty of the pitching though, and the fact that it is so rare and precious that makes it beautiful to me. 
I don’t have to be a White Sox fan to appreciate this, I think that every baseball fan should find this to be beautiful and stunning. I can understand that it must have been embarrassing for the Rays to be shut out like that, but it’s really just something you tip your cap to. It is something that I will always remember. 
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I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Hall of Fame inductions, which I was delighted to watch on MLB Network. I was in absolute awe to see 50 living legends all in one place, and I’ll be completely honest with you: there was a good portion of them that I hadn’t heard of, but that just makes me even more excited to go to the Hall of Fame in a few weeks. 
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It was really inspiring to see Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice give their speeches. Henderson was so humbled by it, and I loved the way that he got into the game, and the part about following your dreams. Jim Rice just looked euphoric– it was great to see him drop his usual demeanor and just laugh. 
Watching the whole Hall of Fame induction ceremony inspired me even more to begin my crusade to enshrine Pete Rose there. I will save my argument for another post, but I would really like to have a makeshift plaque made for him, and bring it to Cooperstown myself. Believe me my friends, I am getting him in there. 
So with the trade deadline coming up, there are plenty of trade rumors going around. I nearly spit my water everywhere when I read that Bronson Arroyo may be headed to the Yankees (this rumor has been squelched for the record). I couldn’t imagine my Arroyo in pinstripes. But this brings me to my main point (I guess?), what I would be doing if I was Theo Epstein. 
I am actually very happy with the Adam LaRoche trade, not because he is adjusting extraordinarily well to Pittsburgh, but because he is a significant upgrade from Mark Kotsay. I never thought Kotsay was anything unique, in fact I was a bit upset when we re-signed him because I thought Chris Carter or Jeff Bailey would be sufficient, if not better. Plus, we didn’t lose any significant prospects (if I don’t talk about them, they aren’t significant). 
We all knew that we had to get Julio Lugo off of our hands. Nice a guy as he may be, he just simply hasn’t been living up to the organization’s expectations, and regardless of his contract, it was for the greater good of the team that he is gone. Chris Duncan is in Triple-A right now, and I am dying to scout him. 
I am actually perfectly content with our roster right now. We don’t need to be involved in a break-the-headlines trade like last year because our left fielder isn’t complaining
about his lifestyle. Poor Manny, $20 million a year and adored by fans– tough life. Yet we still are involved in trade talks. 
I have heard the Roy Halladay rumors, and I was not attracted to him for a second (same thing happened with Mark Teixeira). I know what kind of pitcher he is, but I know what kind of pitching we have in the minors. Would Halladay solidify what has been perhaps a somewhat disappointing rotation (specifically Dice-K and Penny’s lack of depth)? Sure, and I’m pretty sure his contract is locked up for a few years. 
Think about what we might have to give up for him though. They asked the Yankees for Joba, Phil Hughes and two more prospects. I am very protective of our bullpen, and even more so of our prospects because the good ones (that are likely to go in a trade) are my projects. Roy Halladay may be the ace of the American League, but I’d be willing to say that Michael Bowden is the next Roy Halladay. That is how much I believe in our prospects. Think about how important Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden could be in the future. 
I have also heard the Victor Martinez rumors. When I said that I think catching is our second weakest position, I do not mean currently. Most of you know how hard I lobbied for Jason Varitek’s return, and I for one have not been disappointed. When I say catching is our weakest position, I mean for the future. George Kottaras is only around because he can catch a knuckleball, and I personally prefer Dusty Brown. I’d rather stick around and wait for Joe Mauer to become available. Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek are both legitimate catchers, who both deserve a lot of playing time. Should Martinez come to the Red Sox, I would think that someone’s playing time would be significantly impacted. 
I think we should stay right where we are right now. We are still very legitimate contenders, but we have to look to future acquisitions too. 

Back, yet not at peace.

There is only one time of year, and one place on Earth that I can deal with being separated from nightly Boston Red Sox games, and the continuous MLB Network. That place was, as I explained in my previous (and by previous, I mean a month ago) post, California. Although the state itself does not constitute my isolation (considering the fact that there are five baseball teams in that state, I would hope not) the summer program that I attended to did. 

As usual, it surpassed my expectations, and being isolated from the incessant updates of pop culture, baseball, and oh yes, world events is actually a nice change. I have mentioned before that I live in a baseball bubble, but for me this program is a utopian bubble. It is the only place that I can truly be myself, and people accept me for it. Granted at Fenway Park, I am undoubtedly accepted as a Red Sox fan, but it is nice to be accepted in a place where not everyone is a Red Sox fan, or a baseball fan for that matter. 
My friends actually wanted to listen to me talk about the Red Sox and baseball, even if they had no previous knowledge of it whatsoever. One of the best friends that I made there, Caroline, did not even know what a grand slam was before we had our little talk. By the end of our two, short weeks together, she was throwing pennies from the year 1986 on the ground because they are cursed. 
This made me truly happy that I could bring a smile to someone’s face just by talking about baseball. It made me realize even more that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. While I would love to convert everyone into a Red Sox fan, I think it is more important to appreciate the beauty of baseball. 
She truly appreciated that passion that I have for it, and she told me she wished “she could love anything as much as I love baseball”. I hope that others will be able to see this when they talk to me. 
Considering I have been gone for a month, I have missed out on a lot. As I was leaving, Dice-K was on his way out of the rotation, and I was trying to come up with a creative injury for his trip to the DL. 
I remember getting updated about John Smoltz’s first start, I was on my way to dinner at Lagunita (the cafeteria at Stanford). I knew he was starting against the Nationals, which is a very nice team to start against for that transition period (from the minors to the majors) considering the Nationals remind me of a minor league team. I was notified that the score was 9-1, Nationals. 
My first thought was, “Have the Nationals even scored nine runs in a game before?” I actually wasn’t angry with Smoltz. I understand the whole need for an adjustment period after talking to my good friend Michael. Even though he is a 20+ year veteran, I was really delving into my empathetic side. 
For his next few starts, I was probably too busy reading about cultural relativism, how altruism and morality don’t exist, or maybe some form of ekphrasis. One of the first games that I watched upon my return was the opening game of the series against the Rangers. 
Our lack of an offense was cruising along nicely for a while, before John Smoltz decided to give up three home runs in one inning, which is quite the rarity for someone of his stature. I was already experiencing separation anxiety/book camp withdrawal, so this did not add to my chipper mood. 
I screamed at my computer screen for the first time in about a month, and yielded more profane tweets than ever before. Generally, I don’t question Terry Francona’s moves, but I thought Smoltz was taken out a little late. I was quite happy to be reunited with Justin Masterson though. I think he was holding a small grudge against my absence considering his ERA was near 5.00. 
The offense seemed to be fine in my absence, I don’t know why they’re acting up now. Big Papi really resurged, and if I need to close my eyes while he is at-bat, then I’ll do it. I’m sad to see that Jason Bay’s average has plummeted, and that Drew and Varitek are in slumps. 
I found it interesting that when Jeff Bailey went on the DL, that Aaron Bates was called up instead of Chris Carter. Aaron Bates is an imminent project of mine, and like Josh Reddick, he is an automatic project for next Spring. Believe me I saw the potential his first two nights in Triple-A Pawtucket. I am just a bit perplexed as to why we are bringing someone up to the Majors who has just barely adjusted to Triple-A. As I said before, when he came up, he had a Triple-A swing with a Double-A eye. I think Chris Carter needs to be given another chance, but I would advise everyone to keep their eye on Bates. 
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Speaking of projects, I have to tell you all how thrilled I am to see Buchholz back on the Red Sox for an extended period of time. I was very pleased to see that his first performance this year went well. I know his numbers imply that he has been tearing up Triple-A but he, like Jon Lester, is one of those guys that needs to focus on every single pitch, not the final outcome. He needs to not get frustrated by his mistakes too. If he gives up a home run, fine, but just move on. I think that Ramon Ramirez does a great job of doing that. However, I do not expect Buchholz to be performing perfectly. He is still very well entitled to that adjustment period. 

Interview from the Press Box; Amateur Scouting

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Continuing the tales of my baseball journey, Tuesday night was packed with even more adventures. The offensively slumping PawSox were finishing a series against the Durham Bulls (the AAA team for the Rays, as Michael told me). Mr. Steve Hyder was kind enough to meet with me that night, but this time, it wasn’t in an office. 

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I was invited to go up into the Press Box for the interview, which made me practically overflow with excitement. While I didn’t spend the entire game up there, it was a nice taste of what to expect for the future. Not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the seats that Mr. Hyder provided us with: once again, they were right behind home plate, and sitting there on the night that my resurfacing project, Clay Buchholz, is pitching is quite the treat. 
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Mr. Hyder is also a radio broadcaster for the PawSox, and just to remind you, he and Mr. Hoard are partners. Hyder is actually a Rhode Island native, so as you can imagine, he grew up as a Red Sox fan. I don’t have his exact words written down because a) I can’t write that fast and b) my handwriting is hideous. 
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1. Did you always know that you wanted to be a sports broadcaster? 

Hyder said that he actually got started a bit late, he didn’t always know that he wanted to do it. He actually received a bit of help from his partner, while he was down at Syracuse. 
2. What or who was your inspiration? 

His answer to this question was actually one of my favorites. He said that he was inspired by the movie ‘Field of Dreams’. The first time I ever saw that movie, it really moved me. That is the movie to use if you want to get your friends into baseball. The problem is, when I suggest it, none of them want to watch a movie about baseball. It is easy for me to see how that would inspire him to go into broadcasting. 
3. Growing up as a fan of the Red Sox, did you like and/or follow the Paw Sox? 
Hyder explained to me that it was different when he was growing up. No one really followed the prospects the way that they do today. I don’t know if people follow it the way that I do, but as he was explaining this to me, I could see that today, there is more of an emphasis on how they will impact the future. 
4. You must have witnessed a bunch of great moments growing up as a Sox fan. If you could broadcast one moment in Red Sox history, or baseball history, which would you pick? If you could interview anyone, who would it be? 

Hyder’s favorite player growing up was Carlton Fisk, so I’m sure you can imagine how excited he was during the 1975 World Series. He said that if he could interview anyone, that it would be Babe Ruth. That took me by surprise at first, considering the impact that Babe Ruth has had on Red Sox history. As he went on, it became more clear to me why he chose Ruth: Hyder said that he was an American icon, one of the most famous Americans in history, and that he would love to spend a couple of days just chatting with him. 
As I mature as a baseball fan, this isn’t as shocking. I know that if I want to work for MLB, I have to reduce my animosity towards the Yankees, and regard them with respect. Ever since I started this blog, this has happened, and now I am able to talk to fans of any team and have intelligent conversations, rather than the traditional “You Suck” type of conversations. 
5. What makes the Paw Sox unique from other minor league organizations? 

I asked this question because it seems that whenever players come up from our minor league system, it doesn’t take them long to adjust to the Major League level. It seems that there is an extra element in this organization, but it’s hard for anybody to put their finger on it. 
Both Hyder and Hoard admitted that they had no idea that Pedroia was going to be the MVP, and Hyder said that he could see that Youkilis would be a solid player, but he didn’t see him being what he is today. Although Hyder couldn’t put a finger on exactly what this extra element was, he said that a lot of other teams are modeling their systems after ours, which says something is special about the Paw Sox. 
6. Which PawSox players do you think will have a significant impact in the future and in which ways? 

Like Hoard, he could also see the potential in people like Bowden and Buchholz, as well as people like Bailey and Carter. However, sometimes there isn’t always a spot for guys even if they do have the potential. 
7. Do you ever make it down to Spring Training. What makes it special, how is it different? 

I absolutely loved his response to this one too, because he was actually able to relate it to something that I am very familiar with. He said that Spring Training is great because it’s like the first day back at school: you’re seeing everyone again, and there’s so much excitement for what this year could bring. 
8. Do you have any advice for an aspiring sportswriter or broadcaster? 

Like I mentioned earlier, Hyder actually got some help from Hoard to get into the industry, so he gave me the same advice that Hoard gave him: do absolutely everything you can to get in. 
Buchholz Breakdown
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It’s one thing to look at his record in the minors and say, “Wow, he’s doing so well this year, why don’t we bring him up?”. It’s another thing to watch his interview and either accuse him of wanting to be traded, or like Terry Francona, praise him for wanting to be in the big leagues. 
I’m not doing either of those things here. I was fortunate enough to see him pitch on Tuesday night in some ridiculously cold weather. Luckily, I had my new, oversized Paw Sox sweatshirt. 
While I am no scout, I think I have a pretty good knack for picking projects, and seeing the potential that each player has. I’d like to call myself an amateur scout. 
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The night before, I actually talked to some scouts. They were really nice, one of the guys had actually been doing it for 22 years. What they do is they get different Minor League assignments (to go see teams) and then they see five straight games. I was telling them how I love going to Spring Training and about my prospects/projects and what not, and they actually asked me who I liked. I told them who to watch out for. 
Anyway, if you looked at the box score of that game, you’d see that Buchholz had given up one run over six innings. Not bad, right? He exited to a lot of cheers, but probably not quite the standing ovation that Smoltz got last night for giving up one run over four innings. 
Still though, I wasn’t all that satisfied with Clay’s outing because I noticed some little things. If he can work on these things and fix them up, then he is going to be an absolute monster. 
The fact that he walked the first batter only bothered me a little bit because he started off throwing two beautiful strikes, and then got himself behind in the count. He was getting behind in counts throughout the night, and occasionally he would miss his spots. 
While this could have been blamed on the cold weather conditions, I don’t want to make up excuses for him, and I’m sure he doesn’t either. I noticed something a bit more concerning to me though, something that hurt him last year as well. 
He gets very frustrated after mistakes. I could see the frown plastered on his face after the home run he gave up. It is all mental with him. I think that he needs to learn to shake off his mistakes. Ramon Ramirez is a great example of that. That one outing of his when he gave up two home runs, his expression didn’t change. 
I said this with Lester, and I’ll say this with Buchholz too because they are both young pitchers. Buchholz needs to ignore the expectations that everyone has for him. The “he’s going to be so great” and “he is the future” expectations. He can’t get ahead of himself, he needs to focus on pitch by pitch, at-bt by at-bat, inning by inning. 
He just needs to be confident with himself too. He gave up a home run but so what? He can still have a nice outing. I said this about Josh Reddick when I first saw him in Spring Training. I was talking about hitting confidence, but regardless, after I said that he really picked up. I have no doubt that Buchholz has the potential to be part of our future, but he just has to focus on the game. 
I talked to Bowden about the mental aspect of the game as well. He says that he always tries to block everything out. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not– especially when he’s in the small ballpark and there’s the one, annoying, obnoxious fan. He said he never changes his stuff when he gets called up. I also asked him if there was a difference pitching against the White Sox and pitching against the Yankees. He said that the atmosphere was different because of the crazy rivalry when he was pitching against the Yankees, but other than that, he uses the same approach. 
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I also wanted to talk about Aaron Bates a little bit. He was just recently called up from AA-Portland, but he didn’t get a hit in either of the nights I was there. That obviously does not mean that we send him back down though. I think that there is an adjustment period with every level, and even Bowden said this (I swear I learned so much from this guy… more than I did in chemistry all year). Bates looks AAA material: he’s big, and he has a nice swing and makes good contact. The problem is that he still has that AA eye. My best friend, Marissa, has decided to make him her project. 
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I noticed something very interesting about Dusty Brown (from downtown of great renown…). He reminds me of Jason Varitek because of his great sense of surroundings. Varitek always knows where the play is, and I can notice that with Brown as well. I think that is one of the most important things with a catcher. 

2009 Red Sox Pitching Preview

I guess I could just give you guys the same predictions that everyone else has… but I don’t really want to do that. I’m going to break down each position, and briefly look at every player. Tonight, I want to look at pitching. I’ll tell you guys how I think their 2009 season will be, and what they will need to do to either come over the 2008 woes, or maintain their 2008 heights. 

Starting Pitching: This year, the Red Sox have some familiar faces in the first four slots for the rotation. The only thing that is different is their fifth spot– they didn’t just hand it over to Clay Buchholz like they did last year (not that they had much of a choice). In fact, despite an impressive spring, Clay won’t even be starting the season with the Red Sox! During the offseason, the Red Sox picked up Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Sure Brad Penny is no CC Sabbathia, but he can sure matchup with AJ Burnett pretty well. And John Smoltz may not be in the prime of his career, but I think that he has some words of wisdom that he can pass down to the guys. Justin Masterson could have filled the fifth starting spot very nicely, but I’ll tell you guys why I think he’ll work out very nicely in the bullpen. 
Josh Beckett: We all know that Beckett has the stuff that can put him in the realm of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but whenever he is injured, he spends so much time recovering, that he isn’t really that dominant. Luckily, Beckett will be starting the season with the Red Sox, and Opening Day for that matter. In 2007 he went 20-7, and in 2008 he went 12-10. So what happened? I agree with the people who have said that he was catching up to himself that entire year. He got injured during Spring Training so he didn’t have a lot of time to get into his rhythm. When he was ready to return, he was thrown right out into a high pressure atmosphere. Guys need Spring Training… just look at Jake Peavy! 
Jon Lester: Lester’s comeback from cancer story is really nice and inspiring and all, but honestly, it’s time to get over it, and he thinks so too. He has said that he wants to be known as a pitcher, not the kid that came back from cancer. Nonetheless, every time he pitches I’m sure we’ll be hearing the story. Anyway, we saw what this guy could do in 2008, his stuff is lethal. Not to mention the fact that he has added a changeup to his arsenal, and oh yeah his performance in the playoffs. There are two things that he needs to remember, and that we need to remember about him.
1. He cannot get overconfident with himself. In the ALCS, everyone had penciled him in for a win because of his performance in the ALDS. I think we let ourselves get a little to confident, and I think he got a little too confident. He needs to focus on executing his pitches, not the fact that statistically, he will probably win this game.
2. He is still really young, so he is still growing. We can’t expect him to be perfect. He’s going to go through some ups and downs. Luckily, he has got Jason Varitek behind the plate, and John Smoltz for some guidance. 
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K obviously performed really well last year: going 18-3 with an ERA under 3.00. The thing is, he wouldn’t usually go that deep. And the reason that he wouldn’t go that deep: walks. I know that he has a remarkable ability to get out of jams (that he creates with his walks), but I would much rather him try to impress me by going into the seventh inning more often. When he would only go five innings last year, that would put extra stress on our not so deep bullpen. This year, if he can go a bit deeper, and put not so much stress on our much deeper bullpen… well, wouldn’t that be a lot better? 
Tim Wakefield: Everything is better at 62 mph right? Well, that is until the batters time down the knuckle ball and start hitting it all over the place. The good thing about Wakefield is that he can go pretty deep into games. The uncertain part is that he is either on or off… there is very little middle ground. Some nights he’ll have great command, and other nights it’s just not there. Still, it is really fun to watch Wakefield baffle hitters with that knuckleball. 
Brad Penny: The fact that he was 6-9 last year definitely reduced his free agent worth. On the other hand, in 2007 he went 16-4. AJ Burnett on the other hand was one of the must valuable free agents out there. Yet if you compare their numbers, I’d consider them equals. 
John Smoltz: I honestly am not really sure as to how John Smoltz’s numbers will be this season. His role is obviously quite similar to what Curt Schilling’s was supposed to be last season. So where the heck is he going to fit into the rotation when he returns in June? Good question, because I have the same one. I don’t think that the Red Sox would put him or Brad Penny in the bullpen because they could both serve very effectively as starters. So could the Red Sox have a six man rotation? This could work out very well when various injuries start happening throughout the season. 
Bullpen: Last year, the bullpen tended to be a problem for the Red Sox. This year, it could be what makes the difference in October. With some very nice additions this bullpen could be considered one of the best in baseball. 
Manny Delcarmen: This guy definitely improved last year, and I think I had under appreciated him in past years. Last year, he appeared in 73 games (74 innings) with a 3.74 ERA. I don’t really consider him a set up man, but I love having him as a true middle reliever. 
Javier Lopez: He is another one of those guys that is either totally on or totally off. So sometimes, I start pacing my living room when he comes in. I see him come in for only one batter a lot, but that’s because he is a lefty specialist. He pitched great in the World Baseball Classic, and I think I underrate him too because his highest ERA in a Boston uniform is 3.10. 
Justin Masterson: I am so excited to have him here for Opening Day! Last year, he showed us that he can be effective both as a starter and a reliever. So why isn’t he starting then? If he gets the fifth slot, than where would we put Brad Penny? Brad obviously has more experience as a starter, and Justin honestly makes a difference in that bullpen. In the postseason, I loved having either Okajima-Masteron-Papelbon, or Masterson-Okajima-Papelbon. I think he’ll have a really nice year in the bullpen. 
Hideki Okajima: Although Okajima was not as consistent last year as he was in 2007, he still did pretty well. Like I’ve said, inconsistency is bound to happen, and I still think that he can be really effective this year. The good part is, we won’t have to rely on him that much seeing that we picked up Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito. 
Ramon Ramirez: An extra set up man for the Red Sox! He was the set-up guy for the Royals, and he had a great season last year. I know that he has the stuff, but from what I’ve not
iced this spring, he just needs to maintain his command. The biggest thing will be the transition from Kansas City to Boston. There is always a lot more scrutiny and attention in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but as long as he stays focused, I’m not concerned. 
Takashi Saito: So this guy posted some pretty spectacular numbers as a closer for the Dodgers, and now he’s coming to the Red Sox just as a set-up man? That’s pretty awesome. But I think that we can still use him to close some games–in fact, I think that we should. At the end of last season… the very end, I’m talking Game 7 of the ALCS… Papelbon wasn’t even available to pitch. He was worn out, and I think we used him way too much throughout the entire season. I’m not saying that he and Saito should split time, but if Papelbon has been working a lot, I think that Saito is definitely qualified to close out a game. 
Jonathan Papelbon: We all know that Papelbon is a very dominant guy, but he did blow a few saves last season. In fact, he blew two in a row. I remember thinking that he needed some rest! We work this poor guy to death (not that we had any other option). But now, I feel much more comfortable that we have guys that will be able to fill in when he needs an off day. Papelbon obviously has a great mentality, so he definitely needs to maintain that, and if he does, I think that he will have a great season. 
Keep your eyes open for: Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard. I think that we will see all of them throughout the entire season. Also, keep tabs on Junichi Tazawa’s progress. 
Offensive/Defensive preview to come either late tomorrow, or early Monday!! 

The End of Spring Training, the Beginning of a New Chapter

I have to tell you guys, I’m absolutely ecstatic for Opening Day. I can’t get it out of my mind, it’s all I ever want to talk about, and after an extended Spring Training– it’s about time. 

Not that the extended Spring Training was bad or anything. I’m glad that we had it. It gave guys like Dustin who maybe start off the season a bit slow extra time to get into their rhythm. Most importantly though, it gave my projects a little extra time to prove themselves. 
That sounds weird right? The most important aspect of Spring Training being the minor leaguers? Spring Training is a time to look at the guys that performed best in the minor leagues, and see if any of them could help your team. 
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We all already know what the guys from last year could do. We know that Ellsbury is the fastest guy out there, and we know that somehow Pedroia’s strike zone has no limits. We know that Tim Lincecum has the coolest windup in baseball, and we know that Jimmy Rollins will be dancing in the dugout. 
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Tell us something we don’t know, or something that we didn’t expect. That’s what Spring Training is about. It’s about Daniel Bard’s 0.00 ERA, it’s about Clay Buchholz talking to John Smoltz and then feeling a new whirl of confidence. It’s about Chris Carter dragging coaches out to the backfield to work on his defense, and it’s about the future. 
That’s why I’m a little sad that it’s over. I’m going to miss talking to all the fans at the game, and waiting for two and a half hours in the rain just for some autographs. This year, I have become much more conscious of the minor leaguers. We both have something in common: we both dream of becoming a part of the Red Sox in the future. They will be playing for them, and I will be writing about them. 
After a while though, Spring Training does get a little tedious, but only because we’re so anxious for Opening Day! It’s kind of like what I’m feeling at school right now. Spring Break starts tomorrow, and let’s just say my brain left about a week ago. 
There is a certain type of excitement that you can detect when you talk about Opening Day with people. Everyone has a reason to be excited and nervous about their team. I know that on Opening Day that I want the Red Sox to beat the Rays, and that Rays Renegade wants just the opposite. 
But both of us share one thing in common: We want baseball back, and our thirst will finally be quenched. This upcoming Monday, our nation will be united, and baseball will be the unifier. 
Chapter 10 of Their Eyes Were Watching God ends with: “So she sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, quenching the thirst of the day”. Janie, the main character of the book, is starting a new chapter in her life, and like her, we will be too. 
2009 is going to bring about some memories that we will be able to talk about forever. We will be watching history in the making… classic games in the making. Every game means something, but like I said last October, we have to focus on winning every inning before winning the game… every at-bat, and every pitch. 
It all counts. One little mistake, and the at-bat could change, the inning could change, and the game could change. Every game counts, and every game is a step on the road to October. 
The thing about baseball is that every team has an equal chance to win a game. That is to say, there is a perfect balance in baseball. I wrote about this in my research paper a little bit. Just think about the structure of it. 
As Professor Michael Novak pointed out, “Another two feet between them might settle the issue decisively between them”. Wouldn’t another two feet between the bases significantly impact the game? There may be statistics, but the structure of the game is inherently democratic. That is why it is America’s game. 
Even though some of America’s attempts at spreading democracy throughout the world may have failed, it has given another great gift to the world: baseball. 
As Walt Whitman put it, “Baseball relieves us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set… let us leave our close rooms, the game of ball is glorious”.