Category Archives: Sports

MLB Should Consider Eliminating Pitcher Position By Placing Baseballs on Tees

The pitchers have become too good. The hitters have become too patient—all too willing to strike out or take walks in pursuit of the perfect home run pitch. Meanwhile, the fast-paced athleticism required in football continues to present a formidable challenge to baseball’s distinction as the national pastime.

It is high time baseball hit back, so to speak. It is time to increase the action and make the game manlier and more entertaining to a wider range of fans.

It is time to let hitters hit off tees and eliminate the effeminate motions of modern pitchers’ deliveries.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci danced around the solution in a recent essay:

“…we are missing an essential part of the game’s allure and romance: the crack of the bat. You hear it less and less in today’s game. Hitting and pitching have evolved in ways that mean the baseball is put into play less frequently than ever before.”

Sure, the league could legislate that young players must be instructed to be less selective at the plate, thus eliminating what Verducci calls the modern hitter’s maddening “passive/aggressive pursuit” during “a game of attrition.”

Basically, today’s ballplayers are a bunch of contact lens-wearing dandies overly concerned with exercising plate discipline, making pitchers tired and winning a bunch of baseball games.

Verducci points to Red Sox hitters as some of the worst offenders of Mark Bellhorn’s disease:

Some teams, such as the particularly influential Yankees and Red Sox, are especially patient. The Red Sox, for instance, in April chose not to swing at 41 percent of pitches that actually were in the strike zone.

Pitchers could be forbidden from throwing the Devil’s fastballs otherwise known as the “cutter,” a pitch that some of Verducci’s sources (the Yankees hitting coach) have blamed for the decrease in balls put in play and thus the pleasing crack-of-the-bat sound in ballparks. However, the rule would be difficult to police due to the large room for interpretation and potential grip modifications that could be employed to get around any newly implemented rules.

A tee is really the only way to make the game more interesting while also keeping it fair. On top of all that, cumbersome statistics such as pitch counts and pitch F/X data would be a thing of the past.

For their part, players asked about the debate in the clubhouse prior to Tuesday night’s game at Fenway Park were skeptical.

“I’d stare at it for a few minutes to see if it fell off the tee, but I guess eventually I’d swing at a baseball if it were set on a tee,” said Marco Scutaro, who was 13th in the American League in pitches per plate appearance in 2009 (4.07).

“Other guys on this team might be a bit more stubborn, though. Do you really think J.D. Drew or Kevin Youkilis would swing at a ball just because it happened to be placed on a tee in front of him? Those dudes are so stubborn I bet they wouldn’t swing the bat for a month just on general principle.”

Bringing ‘Dirty Water’ Back into the City of Boston

Depending on who you ask, it was either one disaster or one catastrophe after another for Bostonians over the weekend. A ruptured metal collar caused a large breach in the pipe system that supplies the city with its drinking water. Meanwhile, the Red Sox put the finishing touches on allowing a disastrous sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

All this happened while two million residents adhered to “boil water” orders and a hellishly cruel halt on sales of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee—a quality of life issue that is the baseball equivalent of being forced to cheer for the Kansas City Royals.

Some parallels of Beantown’s double-headed crisis:

Adrian Gonzalez and bottled water: The people clamoring for Theo Epstein to mortgage the club’s future in a panic trade for Adrian Gonzalez are the same morons overbuying cases of Poland Springs water as they brace for an impending apocalypse in which—horror of horrors—they may be forced to boil drinking water for a couple of days. Meanwhile, taking into account the current makeup of the major league roster and the bulk of future talent in the minor leagues, at least half the clubs in major league baseball would gladly trade positions with the Red Sox. Overreactions to one month of mediocrity are as embarrassing as the bomb-shelter mindset of many Greater Boston residents over the last two days.  The people in underdeveloped third world countries without running water would drink Chestnut Hill Reservoir’s so-called pond water as though it were the nectar of the Gods. They would nurse those cartoonish 45-ounce bottles of Fiji water like it was 50-year-old Scotch.

Yankees fans and rat bastards living in Cambridge: These people always find some way to be obnoxious. While residents in the Back Bay drink tinny-tasting water out of spaghetti pots, those Fresh Pond-drinking liberals across the Charles smugly hydrate themselves worry-free as though it were some sort of birthright. They aren’t getting any of the bottled water that Boston hoarded if the same thing happens to them this summer. Similarly, let’s see how good the Yankees look when injuries start assaulting their old, brittle starting lineup later this summer.

Darnell McDonald and bleach: Sprinkling a few drops of bleach into the water sanitizes it just enough to make it usable for washing dishes or dirty hands. Psychologically, it’s about as desirable as starting a 31-year-old journeyman in center-field, but it will do the trick in the short term. A few months from now, if the Red Sox right the ship, we’ll be able to laugh and say “remember when Darnell McDonald was getting big hits in high leverage situations and we had to boil our drinking water?

Advocates of Daisuke Matsuzaka and people who drink tap water: Tap water drinkers who thumb their noses at people who “waste” money on bottled water should stick to their guns and ignore all those signs warning against drinking from the faucet. There’s only something like 3-5% more fecal matter and bacteria in the backup supply compared to the normal levels in Quabbin’s main pool. Similarly, those hanging onto the hope that Dice-K still has something left to offer his team may be tempted to re-evaluate their opinions based on his feces-like performance on Saturday (4 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 2 HRs, 3 BBs, 4 Ks). But that would be extremely shortsighted and hypocritical. Drink your poop water and hope the Dice Man turns it around on Thursday night.

Aramark and price gouging retailers: The state is vowing to crack down on local businesses who try to take advantage of the relative spike in demand for bottled water versus a quickly diminishing supply. Based on these standards, fans in Fenway Park for the upcoming 10-game home stand shouldn’t expect to pay more than $10.00 for a 20-ounce bottle of Aquafina. Any price higher than that will be considered overcharging customers for the sake of profit.

The local media and…the local media: Nothing bolsters ratings and newspaper sales like a good, old-fashioned poor start to the baseball season coupled with some relatively minor inconveniences that can be overblown by the media under the guise of providing a public service.

Wade Boggs / Lawrence Taylor Drinking Contest Needs to Happen At Fenway Park

For years, former Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs’ legacy of drinking dozens of Miller Lites on cross-country flights has raged. Conservative estimates of the Chicken Man’s drinking prowess generally range between 60 and 70 in one sitting.

Meanwhile, former NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor is now asserting that he got blackout drunk off 41 Coors Lights on the night he was drafted by the New York Giants.

Isn’t it about time these two retired athletes got their names back in the headlines for positive accomplishments on a playing field?

Last year, as part of a hokey minor league promotion, Boggs poured beers for other people at a Lowell Spinners game. But that gig had to have been as unfulfilling as being paid to wear a Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat into the Hall of Fame. A shrewd business decision, yes. But it won’t help the Chicken Man get to sleep at night as easily as two cases of Miller Lites.

Taylor, meanwhile, could use a makeover to his reputation after a depressing appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

The similarities between the two players are alarming: Both are 51 years old. Both played spotlight roles on big-market teams under constant, extreme scrutiny. Both played at high levels while feeding destructive addictions (chicken, sex and beer for Boggs; cocaine, sex and beer for Taylor). Both also tearfully confessed their regrettable vices on national television.

This isn’t so much a suggestion or merely a good idea. This is an outright demand that the Red Sox facilitate and host the event at Fenway Park sometime this summer.

The current Red Sox ownership group has whored out Fenway Park for much less savory events—John Henry’s wedding, Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffet and Phish concerts, to name a few. Two Hall-of-Fame athletes from the 1980s drinking as many beers as they can over several hours is a better expenditure of time and resources than some jam band attempting a clumsy cover of “Sweet Caroline.” And it would undoubtedly generate more money.

Broadcasting rights for the event would sell to a national network for millions. Or, if NESN were so inclined to air the event, advertisement revenue would be astronomical. If he were still employed by the team, Dr. Charles Steinberg wouldn’t say no.

What’s more, a Boggs vs. Taylor drinking contest would wreak much less havoc on the outfield grass in the middle of the summer than a gigantic stage. All the ballclub would really need to do is set up two large tables on which each could pile his empties in pyramid fashion.

The tickets would sell themselves and the team could practically print money (if they haven’t done so already) based on the amount of beer sales to wannabe competitors liquoring themselves up in the stands. The Boston police officers sore over civilian flaggers cutting into their paydays? They can all work crowd control at the event. For once, they would actually earn their $200 per hour keeping the mayhem to a minimum.

See? Everybody wins. (Unless Butch Hobson shows up.)

A Few Things about the Jordan’s Furniture Monster (Hit) Scam

The sign in center field is just above bleacher section 40, just waiting to be peppered with tape-measure home runs as part of the Jordan’s Furniture Monster Hit promotion.

So any home run that hits that sign during a game means free furniture for anyone who made a purchase before the deadline?

Well, no. Not every home run is eligible—just those hit by Red Sox players…after July 15.

OK, that’s fine—nobody wants free furniture because Ramon Ramirez threw a flat fastball to Carlos Pena. The Red Sox have actually shown a decent amount of power thus far in 2010. And the ball carries well to center during the summer at Fenway. Home runs occasionally glance off the back wall behind section 40 from time to time. And that’s right where the sign is located. There’s a chance!!

Just a second there, Lloyd Christmas. The free furniture thing is limited to homers that hit the small baseball printed on the left-hand side of the sign…(The fine print: The hit will not be considered “direct” if it caroms off another object or is touched by a fan before hitting the baseball on sign.)

Oh.

Based on available data from Hit Tracker Online, 186 home runs were hit at Fenway Park in 2009 (about 2.30 per game). One of those homers landed in the vicinity of the Monster Hit sign. In 2008, two home runs out of 147 would have had Jordan’s insurers holding their breath. In 2007: three of 148. In 2006: three of 156.

Some of these home runs probably wouldn’t have even appeared as close as Hit Tracker’s scatter plots suggest. Nevertheless, in the most charitable scenario, there is a 1-2% possibility that any given home run has a chance of making a dent somewhere on the sign based on data from the last four years (9 dongs out of a total of 637 hit). But the actual area taken up by the baseball itself is probably something like 5% of the total sign’s space. So in reality, the promotion is akin to a blindfolded shot from half court at a Celtics game where just hitting the backboard would be an impressive accomplishment.

But the trouble isn’t solely that the probability of a “Monster Hit” begins with a decimal point followed by a bunch of zeroes. It could happen. The more glaring reality is that Jordan’s is preying on the dumbest subset of fans by enticing them to bet on the likelihood of a player hitting a specific spot on a sign over 430 feet from home plate at Fenway Park. The possible reward should be more interesting than free second-rate furniture.

So what would be a better reward for customers who buy furniture at Jordan’s based on the possibility that it will be free if someone hits the target?

It has to be something equally as far-fetched. It should be interesting and rewarding for everyone involved. Not just for those who purchased sofas and loveseats. It should universally atone for all the aggravation the company will put NESN viewers through with its incessant advertising spots. It should offset the mental pressure it puts on David Ortiz—Does the slugger’s homerless psyche really need to have a tiny home run target as a backdrop in center field?

It should also punish Jordan’s Furniture for being unoriginal. This promotion is a watered-down version of MasterCard’s long-running sponsorship of targets at the MLB All-Star Game home-run derby event.

At the very least, that guy in their ads should have to cut off his ponytail so that Jade McCarthy and Heidi Watney can use it as a French tickler while enthusiastically hooking up on a memory foam mattress while Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy provide a play-by-play analysis on live television.

The Youker Files: A Day on the Links

Written exclusively for Fenway Pastoral by Red Sox first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis

I don’t play much golf during the baseball season. I’ve found that angrily impaling an oak tree with the head of a nine iron can have devastating effects on my contact rates at the dish. Plus, I always wind up getting paired with Dustin Pedroia, who has never shared company in a tee box with a back-swing he didn’t want to sabotage by mumbling some off-color vulgarity.

When Dustin told me he was heading out one morning for an early round at a local country club near Fort Myers, my first instinct was to tell him to find somebody else to tolerate the childish taps from his putter on their undercarriage while trying to line up a 35-footer.

But then I got to thinking: The regular season was about a week away and my chances for a leisurely day on the links were about to become almost nonexistent for the next six-plus months.

I really don’t know what got into me, but the next thing I knew Dustin and I were teeing up a 380-yard par 4 with a dog-leg left on a private course near Fort Myers. Well, my first drive off the tee sliced dog-legged right and out of play. I rained blows on the first of many garbage cans that day. In the process, I broke the graphite shaft of my favorite TaylorMade driver, leaving me with just 10 back-up drivers for the remaining 17 holes. I knew I would have to be more careful.

The first few holes went relatively well after that. I was shooting a 39 heading onto the fifth–an elevated par 3 with a small swamp on the left and sandy desert on the right. I lofted what I thought was a brilliant shot with my seven iron. But the ball got caught in the wind and briefly hung onto the edge of the left-side rough before kicking out to the muddy edge of the drink.

I was able to identify my ball (I only play with Nike 2s) amongst several Titleists that some of the less adventurous golfers had abandoned in favor of taking drops on drier land. Maybe I should have done the same. But at that point, I was still on pace for my handicap and didn’t want to waste a stroke by taking a drop. Plus, I was wearing some old baseball cleats from last season (I hate the feel of golf shoes), so I didn’t see much harm in getting them a bit dirty by stepping into the swamp. What I didn’t realize was that a rather large alligator had somehow found his way into the water.

As I was lining up my shot, I caught a glimpse of the ugly gator’s open mouth surging toward my leg. My vain attempts to shoo him away with my wedge only enraged the creature further and it was then that I had regretted tuning out Mike Greenwell a few years ago when he gave the team a primer on alligator wrestling techniques during spring workouts. Back in 2005, his tips seemed overly complicated and pretty unnecessary. But I guess even in this new, rejiggered economic world, subduing alligators is a valuable survival skill.

Anyway, the gator took a pretty good chunk of meat off the back of my leg and I probably woke up some people in the nearby nursing home with my wrenching screams of agony. Its clenched teeth gripped my leg with excruciating force. Luckily, Dustin had a butterfly knife in his golf slacks and he was able to dart the blade between the reptile’s eyes to kill it. The effort was heroic even if rolling to the ground while making the throw seemed a bit unnecessary.

I wrapped my wound with gauze and ate a hot dog as we made the turn to the back nine. I was off my handicap but still shooting a respectable 68. Even better, I had only broken three drivers and thrown a couple of irons into the water. My only concern was that bending my putter shaft over my thigh after five-putting the ninth hole forced me to play the last half of the course using a three iron as a putter.

The back nine wasn’t all that eventful. Some hack’s stray approach shot hit me in the ear as I was lining up a putt on the 10th green, a pelican pooped on my head somewhere on the 12th fairway, I flipped our riding cart over on a sharp turn and saw some things in the 16th hole’s port-a-potty that will haunt my dreams. But that was really about it.

When it was all over, I was happy to wind up shooting a 129. Golf isn’t my best sport, but I think once I retire I could probably get pretty good at it and maybe join the PGA tour. We’ll see what happens, though. It’s tough playing with buffoons like Dustin. Don’t get me wrong, I love him as a teammate on the diamond. But golf is a game that requires a certain amount of social grace that Pedey just doesn’t seem to have. I don’t need someone calling me an “ugly Sally” every time I shank a drive and barely clear the women’s tee box.

Well, that’s all I got for now. I can’t wait to be back in Boston to start the regular season. In some strange way, I think the round of golf may serve as a good omen for 2010. After Dustin killed that alligator on the 5th hole, I pulled out one of its teeth and will wear it around my neck for luck. That bastard didn’t know who he was messing with.

2010 Red Sox Preview: RBI Baseball Comparables

Released over 20 years ago, RBI Baseball for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System is unrivaled as the single best baseball video game ever created. The game has yet to meet its match in terms of sheer entertainment, user-friendly gameplay and longevity. Developed by Namco and published by Tengen, the game was licensed by the MLB Players Association, but not by Major League Baseball itself. Teams are referred to only by their city and team names are not referenced anywhere within the game.

For Red Sox fans, RBI Baseball is even better because “Boston’s” roster is absolutely stacked with both players who were good in real life and in the video game as well as guys who the game’s creators decided to make disproportionately awesome for whatever reason. (Most scholars theorize that Japan-based Namco’s self-loathing Yankees fans who were discouraged by the plight of the Bombers of the late-80s blessed the Boston team in RBI Baseball with otherworldly talent as a way to express their displeasure.)

In the spirit of the Baseball Prospectus “most comparable players” feature that is used to develop PECOTA projections, Fenway Pastoral is proud to present the definitive preview of the 2010 Boston Red Sox using RBI Baseball comparables.

Statistics following players are their totals as listed by RBI Baseball. (Namco mainly used individual players’ numbers from the 1986 season in doling out gameplay skill levels. There are some exceptions, including Tony Armas and Ellis Burks, as further explained below.)

STARTING LINEUP:

Marty Barrett, 2B (RBI Stats: .286 AVG, 4 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Dustin Pedroia
Statistics do not do the player justice in either case. Barrett is a top-of-the-order guy who opposing players often underestimate when it comes to pitching with respect. Barrett’s RBI character routinely assaults all fields with line drives, shows deceptive speed on the base paths and pops out the occasional home run when no one seems to be looking. Leave a pitch over the plate and both RBI Barrett and Pedroia are capable of setting the table for a big inning.

Bill Buckner, 1B (.267, 18 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Cameron
By 1986, Buckner had enjoyed an already long, accomplished career playing primarily in the National League–Buckner’s Major League debut was in 1969(!). Ignoring his real-life success and apocalyptic, soul-crushing failings as a real-life Red Sox, RBI Buckner is a serviceable part of the lineup, albeit unappreciated due to the presence of the more popular names (Boggs, Rice, Evans). Buckner’s not a bad guy to have in the lineup and the numbers indicate adequate, steady production. Still, there’s always a lingering feeling that maybe it won’t quite work out.

Wade Boggs, 3B (.357, 8 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Lowell

His name and reputation demand respect when he steps to the plate as the third hitter in Boston’s stacked RBI lineup. But for as good as he is, the RBI version of Boggs hits an awful lot of singles and he’s only good for extra bases on pitches catching the fattest part of the plate. Against flamethrowers like Houston’s Nolan Ryan or New York’s Dwight Gooden, Boggs has a tendency to pop out to the infield unless the pitcher is still in the game in the fifth inning, by which time their fastballs top out at around 80-82 MPH.

Jim Rice, CF (.324, 20 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Kevin Youkilis
Clean-up hitters are supposed to evoke TEH FEAR and both RBI Rice and Youkilis do to some extent (depending on the situation). But part of their value is derived from the potential damage the hitters on deck and in the hole can inflict. A seasoned RBI player uses Rice to make his opponent throw additional pitches, which tires their hurler and sets the table for a mistake pitch to the next guy.

Don Baylor, LF (.263, 31 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: David Ortiz
Baylor’s 30-plus home run power makes him a guy you can’t take for granted in the lineup when playing RBI Baseball. Players who make mistakes over the middle of the plate are routinely embarrassed by tape-measure home runs. But Baylor hit for a low average due to 111 strikeouts in 1986 and he was clearly on the tail end of a productive career. Yet the game’s creators at Namco largely chose to ignore all this when inputting his skill set into gameplay. As great as Ortiz has been, his reality is pretty much the same as he begins what could be his final season in Boston.

Dwight Evans, RF (.259, 26 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: J.D. Drew
Facing RBI Evans almost feels like an afterthought by the time he shows up in the sixth spot of the order. Namco blessed Evans with power that can translate to all fields and very few of his home runs are cheap. Like all but five of Drew’s home runs in 2009, Evans hits lots of dingers that have plenty of distance (i.e. home runs that sail over the bleachers in Tengen Stadium and into the dark nighttime sky). Even when RBI Evans doesn’t make solid contact, he is adept at maintaining a solid batting average on balls in play due to a sweet swing and good fly ball and line drive rates. What’s more, RBI Evans is good enough that opponents must respect the strike zone and he is often used to drive up pitch counts early in the game.

Rich Gedman, C (.274, 16 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Marco Scutaro
RBI Gedman cannot be trusted. His listed batting average is inflated based on his hitting abilities. But the lineup and defense has to be filled out at every position and he isn’t a total black hole at the plate. However, RBI players should be wary of expecting Gedman to carry a lineup in any given game. He is the equivalent of a stripper who is past her prime at the gentleman’s club that patrons tolerate in lieu of someone better—in Scutaro’s case, Jose Iglesias. Most of the time, a hit or two is all anyone really needs out of RBI Gedman.

Spike Owen, SS (.231, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jason Varitek

Owen’s purpose in the lineup is also that of a placeholder. His inclusion on the roster presents a key test that separates first-time RBI players from the pros. The first time an experienced, grizzled RBI vet sees Owen at the plate, he/she removes him for a pinch-hitter lest he ground out to the right side. By all accounts, Owen is a very nice guy off the field, though.

BENCH:

Dave Henderson, OF (.265, 15 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Adrian Beltre

After playing for the Seattle Mariners for six years, Henderson was traded to the Red Sox (along with Owen) in the summer of 1986 and went on to hit some absolutely gigantic home runs for Boston in the ALCS and World Series. It’s worth a try.

Ellis Burks, OF (.272, 20 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Casey Kelly

Namco jumped the gun by including Burks on this Red Sox team. Burks’ listed stats are actually from the 1987 season, although he was a well-known prospect after being selected by Boston with the 20th pick in the 1983 draft. Having already put in several years in the minors, perhaps RBI Baseball included Burks on the team as an interesting alternative off the bench. It was either Burks or a guy like Steve Lyons (1 HR in 275 PA in 1986). Another first-round pick (30th overall in 2008), Kelly fits the bill as Burks’ comp. It is already widely assumed that Kelly will be pitching in Boston by the end of the season. Unless he tanks the first half of the season in the minors, a spot start for Kelly in mid-summer figures to be a bit more anticipated than one by Paul Byrd.

Tony Armas, OF (1984 totals: .264, 43 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Bill Hall
Finding a comp for Armas on the 2010 Red Sox is complicated by the fact that his statistics on the RBI team are from the 1984 season rather than the 1986 season. Instead of listing him with 11-home-run power (his actual total from ’86), he is blessed with the ridiculous power he exhibited in 1984, when he banged out 43 home runs. Savvy players insert him into the lineup for Gedman or Owen during the first trip through the lineup because he hits towering home runs out of the ballpark at least half of the time his bat makes contact with a pitch. But even for a vintage video game, his power is exaggerated. Armas’ cartoonish ability to hit moonshots is somewhat balanced off by his status as a bench player. It is possible that the game’s creators were ahead of their time in recognizing just how poor his peripheral statistics were: In the process of hitting those 43 dongs in 1984, Armas also struck out a league-high 156 times while drawing just 32 walks. Bearing all this in mind, Bill Hall is the only logical choice as his 2010 Sox comp. Despite a K% and an OBP that is a mess, the 2010 Sox are banking on a return to the power production from several years ago (2006 in Hall’s case) much like the RBI creators conveniently ignored Armas’ actual 1986 statistics in favor of the sexier ’84 campaign. Moreover, the Sox plan to use Hall as a super-utility player similar to the way RBI gamers are able use Armas, who can be plugged into any of the defensive positions with no consequence due to the limitations of the gameplay. (All RBI fielders would record the same UZR if some nerd decided to actually keep track of such data.)

Marc Sullivan, C (.193, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Tug Hulett
There isn’t much to say about Sullivan. No one ever uses him unless they want to pinch-hit for a pitcher and all the other bench options have already been exhausted. If Sullivan ever enters an RBI game, it probably means trouble.

PITCHERS:

Roger Clemens (2.48 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Josh Beckett

Consistency and an unbeatable mixture of high-velocity fastballs and filthy change-ups make RBI Clemens the team’s workhorse. But Clemens’ 101-MPH fastball fizzles out by the fifth inning if players use it too much early in the game. The Texas Con Man’s reputation as a vigorous Clydesdale can be overblown at times and players too often forget that his left-handed counterpart is probably just as good or better.

Bruce Hurst (2.99 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jon Lester

Speed, movement, stamina. RBI Hurst has it all—yet he’s overshadowed by the more recognizable Clemens, who is generally considered by gamers as the Red Sox ace.  As the dilemma of RBI Hurst versus RBI Clemens shows, identifying a top-tier pitching staff’s “No. 1 Starter” is an exercise in splitting hairs that even dimwitted media members have begun to abandon when it comes to Lester and Beckett in 2010.

Calvin Schiraldi (1.41 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jonathan Papelbon
Disturbingly, the real life comparisons between these two relievers do not end with Papelbon’s meltdown in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS. Schiraldi’s infamous collapse happened on a much larger scale, but his 1986 campaign was nevertheless Papelbon-esque up until the biggest moment of the season– a 3.67 K/BB rate in the regular season and some huge outs in the ALCS. From an RBI gameplay perspective, bringing in Schiraldi is the only prudent move once both Clemens and Hurst have been taken to the brink. RBI Schiraldi has just enough to get three outs, but players tempt fate by asking him to get four or more outs.

Bob Stanley (1.81 ERA)

2010 Red Sox comp: Tim Wakefield
The game has gone into extra innings and attrition has set in. There’s no one else left and any remaining innings in the game must be eaten, for better or for worse. Stanley was pretty good three or four years before the game came out. But with a fastball that tops out at 82 MPH, RBI Stanley’s stuff isn’t going to fool too many people on most days. Still, against a less experienced RBI opponent, a player may be able to begin the game with Stanley on the mound and save Clemens and Hurst for higher-leverage innings later in the game. RBI Stanley’s low-70s change-up is his best pitch when used properly and thrown with pinpoint accuracy on the corners. (One note: Stanley never had an ERA below 2.60, which he posted in 1978 pitching 141 innings primarily out of the bullpen in the process of finishing seventh in Cy Young balloting.)

<!–[if !mso]>

Released over 20 years ago, RBI Baseball for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System is unrivaled as the single best baseball video game ever created. The game has yet to meet its match in terms of sheer entertainment, user-friendly gameplay and longevity. Developed by Namco and published by Tengen, the game was licensed by the MLB Players Association, but not Major League Baseball itself. Teams are referred to only by their city and team names are not referenced anywhere within the game.

For Red Sox fans, RBI Baseball is even better because “Boston’s” roster is absolutely stacked with both players who were good in real life and in the video game as well as guys who the game’s creators decided to make disproportionately awesome for whatever reason. (Most scholars theorize that self-loathing Yankees fans who were discouraged by the plight of the Bombers of the late-80s blessed the Boston team in RBI Baseball with otherworldly talent as a way to express their displeasure.)

In the spirit of the Baseball Prospectus “most comparable players” feature that is used to develop PECOTA projections, Fenway Pastoral is proud to present the definitive preview of the 2010 Boston Red Sox using RBI Baseball comparables.

Statistics following players are their totals as listed by RBI Baseball. (Namco mainly used individual players’ numbers from the 1986 season in doling out gameplay skill levels. There are some exceptions, including Tony Armas and Ellis Burks, as further explained below.)

Starters:

Marty Barrett, 2B (RBI Stats: .286 AVG, 4 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Dustin Pedroia
Statistics do not do the player justice in either case. Barrett is a top-of-the-order guy who opposing players often underestimate when it comes to pitching with respect. Barrett’s RBI character routinely assaults all fields with line drives, shows deceptive speed on the base paths and pops out the occasional home run when no one seems to be looking. Leave a pitch over the plate and both RBI Barrett and Pedroia are capable of setting the table for a big inning.

Bill Buckner, 1B (.267, 18 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Cameron
By 1986, Buckner had enjoyed an already long, accomplished career playing primarily in the National League–Buckner’s Major League debut was in 1969(!). Ignoring his real-life success and apocalyptic, soul-crushing failings as a real-life Red Sox, RBI Buckner is a serviceable part of the lineup, albeit unappreciated due to the presence of the more popular names (Boggs, Rice, Evans). Nevertheless, Buckner’s not a bad guy to have in the lineup and the numbers indicate adequate, steady production. Still, there’s always a lingering feeling that maybe it won’t quite work out.

Wade Boggs, 3B (.357, 8 HRs)

2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Lowell
His name’s cache demands respect when he steps to the plate as the third hitter in Boston’s stacked RBI lineup. But for as good as he is, the RBI version of Boggs hits an awful lot of singles and he’s only good for extra bases on pitches catching the fattest part of the plate. Against flamethrowers like Houston’s Nolan Ryan or New York’s Dwight Gooden, Boggs has a tendency to pop out to the infield unless the pitcher is still in the game in the fifth inning, by which time their fastballs top out at around 80-82 MPH.


Jim Rice, CF (.324, 20 HRs)

2010 Red Sox comp: Kevin Youkilis
Clean-up hitters are supposed to evoke TEH FEAR and both RBI Rice and Youkilis do to some extent (depending on the situation). But part of their value is derived from the potential damage the hitters on deck and in the hole can inflict. A seasoned RBI player uses Rice to make his opponent throw additional pitches, which tires their hurler and sets the table for a mistake pitch to the next guy.

Don Baylor, LF (.263, 31 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: David Ortiz
Baylor’s 30-plus home run power makes him a guy you can’t take for granted in the lineup when playing RBI Baseball. Players who make mistakes over the middle of the plate are routinely embarrassed by tape-measure home runs. But Baylor hit for a low average due to 111 strikeouts in 1986 and he was clearly on the tail end of a productive career. Yet the game’s creators at Namco largely chose to ignore all this when inputting his skill set into gameplay. As great as Ortiz has been, his reality is pretty much the same as he begins what could be his final season in Boston.

Dwight Evans, RF (.259, 26 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: J.D. Drew

Facing RBI Evans almost feels like an afterthought by the time he shows up in the sixth spot of the order. Namco blessed Evans with power that can translate to all fields and very few of his home runs are cheap. Like all but five of Drew’s home runs in 2009, Evans hits lots of dingers that have plenty of distance (i.e. home runs that sail over the bleachers in Tengen Stadium and into the dark nighttime sky). Even when RBI Evans doesn’t make solid contact, he is adept at maintaining a solid batting average on balls in play due to a sweet swing and good fly ball and line drive rates. What’s more, RBI Evans is good enough that opponents must respect the strike zone and he is often used to drive up pitch counts early in the game.

Rich Gedman, C (.274, 16 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Marco Scutaro
RBI Gedman cannot be trusted. His listed batting average is inflated based on his hitting abilities. But the lineup and defense has to be filled out at every position and he isn’t a total black hole at the plate. However, RBI players should be wary of expecting Gedman to carry a lineup in any given game. He is the equivalent of a stripper who is past her prime at the gentleman’s club that patrons tolerate in lieu of someone better—in Scutaro’s case, Jose Iglesias. Most of the time, a hit or two is all anyone really needs out of RBI Gedman.

Spike Owen, SS (.231, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jason Varitek
Owen’s purpose in the lineup is also that of a placeholder. His inclusion on the roster presents a key test that separates first-time RBI players from the pros. The first time an experienced, grizzled RBI vet sees Owen at the plate, he/she removes him for a pinch-hitter lest he ground out to the right side. By all accounts, Owen is a very nice guy off the field, though.

Bench:

Dave Henderson, OF (.265, 15 HR)

2010 Red Sox comp: Adrian Beltre

After playing for the Seattle Mariners for six years, Henderson was traded to the Red Sox (along with Owen) in the summer of 1986 and went on to hit some absolutely gigantic home runs for Boston in the ALCS and World Series. It’s worth a try.


Ellis Burks, OF (.272, 20 HR)

2010 Red Sox comp: Casey Kelly

Namco jumped the gun by including Burks on this Red Sox team. Burks’ listed stats are actually from the 1987 season, although he was a well-known prospect after being selected by Boston with the 20th pick in the 1983 draft. Having already put in several years in the minors, perhaps RBI Baseball included Burks on the team as an interesting alternative off the bench. It was either Burks or a guy like Steve Lyons (1 HR in 275 PA in 1986). Another first-round pick (30th overall in 2008), Kelly fits the bill as Burks’ comp. It is already widely assumed that Kelly will be pitching in Boston by the end of the season. Unless he tanks the first half of the season in the minors, a spot start for Kelly in mid-summer figures to be a bit more anticipated than one by Paul Byrd.

Tony Armas, OF (1984 totals: .264, 43 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Bill Hall
Finding a comp for Armas on the 2010 Red Sox is complicated by the fact that his statistics on the RBI team are from the 1984 season rather than the 1986 season. Instead of listing him with 11-home-run power (his actual total from ’86), he is blessed with the otherworldly power he exhibited in 1984, when he banged out 43 home runs. Savvy players insert him into the lineup for Gedman or Owen during the first trip through the lineup because he hits towering home runs out of the ballpark at least half of the time his bat makes contact with a pitch. But even for a vintage video game, his power is exaggerated. Armas’ cartoonish ability to hit moonshots is somewhat balanced off by his status as a bench player. It is possible that the game’s creators were ahead of their time in recognizing just how poor his peripheral statistics were: In the process of hitting those 43 dongs in 1984, Armas also struck out a league-high 156 times while drawing just 32 walks. Bearing all this in mind, Bill Hall is the only logical choice as his 2010 Sox comp. Despite a K% and an OBP that is a mess, the 2010 Sox are banking on a return to the power production from several years ago (2006 in Hall’s case) much like the RBI creators conveniently ignored Armas’ actual 1986 statistics in favor of the sexier ’84 campaign. Moreover, the Sox plan to use Hall as a super-utility player similar to the way RBI gamers are able use Armas, who can be plugged into any of the defensive positions with no consequence due to the limitations of the gameplay. (All RBI fielders would record the same UZR if some nerd decided to actually keep track of such data.)

Marc Sullivan, C (.193, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Tug Hulett
There isn’t much to say about Sullivan. No one ever uses him unless they want to pinch-hit for a pitcher and all the other bench options have already been exhausted. If Sullivan ever enters an RBI game, it probably means trouble.

Pitchers:

Roger Clemens (2.48 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Josh Beckett
Consistency and an unbeatable mixture of high-velocity fastballs and filthy change-ups make RBI Clemens the team’s workhorse. But Clemens’ 101-MPH fastball fizzles out by the fifth inning if players use it too much early in the game. The Texas Con Man’s reputation as a vigorous Clydesdale can be overblown at times and players too often forget that his left-handed counterpart is probably just as good or better.

Bruce Hurst (2.99 ERA)

2010 Red Sox comp: Jon Lester
Speed, movement, stamina. RBI Hurst has it all—yet he’s overshadowed by the more recognizable Clemens, who is generally considered by gamers as the Red Sox ace.  As the dilemma of RBI Hurst versus RBI Clemens shows, identifying a top-tier pitching staff’s “No. 1 Starter” is an exercise in splitting hairs that even dimwitted media members have begun to abandon when it comes to Lester and Beckett in 2010.


Calvin Schiraldi (1.41 ERA)

2010 Red Sox comp: Jonathan Papelbon
Disturbingly, the real life comparisons between these two relievers do not end with Papelbon’s meltdown in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS. Schiraldi’s infamous collapse happened on a much larger scale, but his 1986 campaign was nevertheless Papelbon-esque up until the biggest moment of the season– a 3.67 K/BB rate in the regular season and some huge outs in the ALCS. From an RBI gameplay perspective, bringing in Schiraldi is the only prudent move once both Clemens and Hurst have been taken to the brink. RBI Schiraldi has just enough to get three outs, but players tempt fate by asking him to get four or more outs.

Bob Stanley (1.81 ERA)

2010 Red Sox comp: Tim Wakefield
The game has gone into extra innings and attrition has set in. There’s no one else left and any remaining innings in the game must be eaten, for better or for worse. Stanley was pretty good three or four years before the game came out. But with a fastball that tops out at 82 MPH, RBI Stanley’s stuff isn’t going to fool too many people on most days. Still, against a less experienced RBI opponent, a player may be able to begin the game with Stanley on the mound and save Clemens and Hurst for higher-leverage innings later in the game. RBI Stanley’s low-70s change up is his best pitch when used properly and thrown with pinpoint accuracy on the corners. (One note: Stanley never had an ERA below 2.60, which he posted in 1978 pitching 141 innings primarily out of the bullpen in the process of finishing seventh in Cy Young balloting.)

Attention Sox fans: Globe’s Abraham owns an iPhone

The Boston Globe sports staff is in a weird place right now. On the one hand, there are crusty old-timers like Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy who cling to their “old order” ways like cheap toilet paper on a hairy orifice. (Just the other day, Shaughnessy categorically referred to computer-generated defensive metrics such as UZR as a “bunch of crap” during a Globe 10.0 segment.)

And then there’s newcomer Peter Abraham, who managed to sound a little bit like a gushing 14-year-old in a thinly veiled effort to let everyone know he has an iPhone:

This is a test. I’m trying to blog off my iPhone using the BlogPress app.

This would enable me to provide updates from the clubhouse and other places the MacBook doesn’t quite fit.

Here’s hoping this posts . . .

UPDATE, 10:16 p.m.: Zowie, it works. Good deal, now we can get the lineups posted and other information out to you quicker.

Having paid his dues at a smaller regional paper in New York before coming to the Globe, Abraham isn’t some doughy-faced youngster fresh out of the oven. Put simply, he’s a less experienced Nick Cafardo who, if he plays his cards right over the next 10 years could become the next…Nick Cafardo. This makes his enthusiasm for budding technology and blogging “apps” all the more strange when compared to his colleagues’ relative caveman bliss.

Anyway, Abraham has both an iPhone and a MacBook. But he also likes to use Adam West-era Batman interjections like “Zowie.” (Chucky Pierce must have helped him with that one.) The guy is unstoppable.

Some people (okay, a lot) stopped reading the Globe years ago as better content has become increasingly accessible on the Internet. But don’t sleep on this team of reporters and columnists covering the Red Sox. They seem to have shallow analysis taken care of on both an old-school and a cutting-edge, multimedia level. It should be a fun season on Morrissey Blvd.

Does Tom Werner know the whereabouts of ‘Boner’?

FORT MYERS, Fla.–Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner made his hay as a producer of hit 1980s sitcoms such as The Cosby Show and Roseanne. Andrew Koenig is a former child actor who played the popular Richard Stabone (aka ‘Boner’) from 1985-1989 on the sitcom Growing Pains.

Now Boner’s gone missing, and Fenway Pastoral recently talked to Werner about it in Fort Myers.

Q. You belong to a powerful group of current and former television executives and entertainment bigwigs. A child actor from the ‘80s is missing. What do you know?

Werner: I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season. People seem pretty worried about our offense and the loss of Jason Bay, but I think we’ll be just fine. I honestly think we’ll be contenders for the World Series as the leaves are turning all kinds of pretty colors in New England this fall. We are going to be hard to beat.

Q. How would you respond to all those people out there who are saying The Cosby Show was inferior to Growing Pains? Are they being overly emotional because they may never see Boner again?

Werner: I think those types of discussions are premature. John (Henry), Larry (Lucchino) and myself all plan to be here for a long, long time. Fenway Park will continue to undergo subtle renovations that will improve the fan experience on game day without compromising the integrity and history of one of Boston’s most cherished landmarks.

Q. Was the guy who played Boner ever considered for a guest star appearance on Cosby Show—maybe as one of Vanessa’s love interests? It seemed like she was a bit of a floozy.

Werner: That is a big point of contention with this ownership group. We don’t believe in bridges or “rebuilding years.” We believe in fielding a contender every season—teams that fans can get excited about each spring and will continue to follow throughout the summer.

Q. What about Roseanne? Boner was a bit of a wiseguy type that would have fit in well with the characters on that show. He could have been a nice foil to John Goodman’s role as the fat dad.

Werner: Well, that’s debatable. There are other defensive metrics out there besides UZR and I think Jacoby Ellsbury is a fine defender, no matter which position in the outfield he plays.

Q. Has reality television effectively killed the sitcom format that was so prevalent on network TV during the 1980s?

Werner: There is no right or wrong answer to that question. I think the evolution of statistical analysis over the last 20 years is an important development in how we evaluate talent. As the game changes, we also need to change in how we analyze players. Our organization supplements the hard work of scouts with useful pitch and zone data and other sabermetrics.

Q. Alright, let’s wrap this up. Are you concerned at all about the long-term legacy of the Cosby Show? Scholars have devoted most of their time debating the relative impact the show may have had on African-American culture rather than focusing on the simple brilliance of plot lines like Theo Huxtable allowing his friend Cockroach to pierce his ear.

Werner: I’m not worried. I expect big things out of Big Papi this year. None of his problems last year are anything that can’t be solved by regaining the plate discipline he showed a few years ago.

Apathetic Boof Bonser already underwhelming his new team

FORT MYERS–Newly acquired Boof Bonser arrived at the Red Sox spring training facility today. Or was it yesterday?

He’s barely had time to unpack his belongings and break in his new glove. His jersey is yet to have a number sewn on the back. Yet his apathy toward Boston and his new team is already clear.

The former Minnesota Twin humors a horde of reporters looking for some sound bytes as he sits down to tie his cleats (one single, loose knot that practically unties on its own).

A local writer asks the 28-year-old what his past impressions of the City of Boston have been when he came to town as a member of the visiting team.

“I don’t know…I’m not sure. We stayed in a hotel and ate somewhere and then came to the ballpark to play. That’s all I remember.”

Asked how different pitching in Fenway Park would be compared to the Metrodome, Bonser deadpanned, “I guess it will probably be different…I don’t know, though. All the pitchers’ mounds seem the same to me.”

Presumably, Bonser is champing at the bit to pitch again after missing the entire 2009 season while recovering from surgery to repair tears in his labrum and rotator cuff. But if this is the case, he isn’t showing it.

“I’m just trying to take it slow, build my arm strength and re-establish rhythm in my delivery,” he shrugs.

When a television reporter inquires about whether Bonser has purchased a home in one of Boston’s leafy, scenic suburbs, the pitcher says he doesn’t care where he lives since he spends half the season on road trips. According to team sources, salary negotiations were alarmingly easy, with Bonser hastily scribbling his name on the $650,000 contract for 2010 as though it were a nuisance.

In a clubhouse packed with fiery guys and bulldog attitudes, Bonser’s trademark dispassion and indifference will undoubtedly be a change of pace this season. It is a demeanor the Red Sox knew was built into the price of acquiring Bonser from the Twins for a player to be named.

“I think people around the league recognize the apathy that this guy brings to the park every day,” says a former teammate from Minnesota. “But I don’t think fans can truly grasp its magnitude until he’s on their team. There is just absolutely nothing burning inside this guy’s gut. I’ve never seen him pump his fist on the mound in the three years I played behind him. When we lost to the Athletics in the 2006 playoffs, he just packed up his stuff and went home…Unbelievable.”

With the passion and intensity of fellow newcomer John Lackey well documented, Bonser’s calm demeanor will almost certainly stand out. At the very least, he will need to get his fill from the clubhouse food spread before Josh Beckett overturns the taco station after a bad outing.

A Twins trainer who worked closely with the pitcher concurred. “Boof’s heart rate barely reaches light aerobic levels even during tight situations. There will be games when the bullpen coach will literally have to wake him up so he can begin warming up.”

To say Bonser is easygoing would be an understatement. He says his friends officially changed his name from John Paul to his nickname, Boof, in 2001 as a prank. But the joke fell flat and the pitcher didn’t even notice people were referring to him by a different name until sometime in 2004. “I haven’t gotten around to changing my name back. I don’t really pay attention to what people call me. Honestly, what does it matter?”

With training camp’s official start days away, Bonser appears similarly unaffected by his presumed status as a long reliever. He is unperturbed that he has been excluded in pre-camp discussions about the fifth starter spot, widely believed to belong to either Clay Buchholz or Tim Wakefield (should someone get hurt).

“Whatever happens, happens. I’ll do whatever they tell me to do.”

Clay Buchholz’s Love Doctor Mailbag: Valentine’s Day Edition

Red Sox pitcher and notorious ladies’ man Clay Buchholz hung up his pimping cleats last November when he married Deal or No Deal model Lindsay Clubine. Now that he’s off the market, he’s answering some reader questions about the fairer sex and dating life.

Clay,
Is it safe to go on a date with a girl who I met through Facebook?

–Doug from Lynnfield

Absolutely, Doug. Back in the day, I took a few birds out who I met through an online alias. Just be careful of women with extensive profiles on social networking sites. They’re usually exhibitionists (which is awesome) but they also tend to be pretty self-involved and will probably have a lot to say even on a first/blind date. To counteract this, make sure you take anyone you meet on MySpace or Ashley Madison or wherever else to a club that plays loud house music. After a couple pours of Grey Goose, her get-to-know-me conversation will just sound like part of the bass line and you can just nod your head along with the beat.


Clay
Please rank the MTV Jersey Shore girls from hottest to ugliest.

–Hal from Somerville

Hal, this one’s easy. Of the four Jersey Shore broads, JWoww is the only one who is my type. She has several tattoos, she likes to party and she wasn’t afraid to upgrade areas of her body that needed work. And I totally related to what she was saying about generally wanting to rip a guy’s head off praying mantis-style after she’s slept with him. I actually had a woman try that on me one time and it’s kind of a turn-on. The other young ladies on the show are too needy (Snooki), too wholesome (Sammi) or too sticky (Angelina). Ranking them would be like comparing the No. 5 starters in the low minors. I’m a professional baseball player–chicks like that might as well be dudes as far as I’m concerned. But I’d let any of them videotape one of my threesomes.


Clay,

Have you ever gone past the point of what would be termed a ‘professional relationship’ with any female beat writers or television reporters?

–Tyrus from Springfield

Those records are sealed, my friend. But let’s just say that last season I began to notice certain reporters seemed to have the night off when I was on the mound.


Clay,
I was recently getting ‘intimate’ with a girl one night when I realized she was wearing granny panties. It would be one thing if she was some 40-year-old cougar, but this girl was only 19 years old.

–Thomas from Sudbury

Wow, ace, that’s a tough one. If you ask me, it’s a disappointment when a girl decides to wear underwear at all. It seems so old-fashioned. I have to assume this girl was on the dreaded 5-day disabled list. But either way, I’d say this can’t be a good sign. I hope you have a solid left-handed relief specialist in your bullpen…


Clay,
Have you ever seen Amalie Benjamin with her glasses off?

–Martin from Kingston, R.I.

Hahahahaha…Next question.

Clay,
Which American League city has the most attractive female fan base?

–Adam from Southie

There’s usually a lot of ladies ready to party in Anaheim whenever we’re in town to play the Angels. Most of them are “aspiring actresses” looking to take a ballplayer home or at least get one of their boobs signed. It’s harmless fun and I always look forward to our trips out west. Of course, when you’re in LA, you gotta make sure Brad Penny didn’t get to the girl first. They’re never the same after he’s through with them. There are also lots of women who throw themselves at me down in St. Petersburg, although most of them are old enough to be my mother. I’ve gotta say that Toronto is the best city, though. The girls are pretty hot, they’re foreign and the Rogers Centre has those hotel rooms attached to the outfield so you don’t even have to leave the ballpark to get lucky. As for women from Kansas City, well, I’d rather ride all the way down to Ft. Myers in the back of the equipment truck than take one of those slam pigs out to some expensive steakhouse. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I’ve played through my arbitration years.

Click here to read last October’s edition of Clay Buchholz’s Love Doctor Mailbag.