Tag Archives: Mookie Betts

This Week in Boston Baseballing, May 30 – June 5

The Red Sox swept the Tampa Bay Rays last weekend in a series that began with some serious back-and-forth between David Ortiz and David Price on Friday night. John Farrell was ejected, teams were warned, aggressions ran high.  Somehow, Mike Carp took all the posturing personally and after he took exception to being hit by an inside pitch, the benches cleared. Things went as they typically do after that. Boston was on its fourth manager by the end of the game,  a Sox victory on a walk-off gapper from A.J. Pierzynski.

Boston Wins Seven In A Row
The bench-clearing nonsense the night before gave way to some of the team’s best baseball of the season on Saturday and Sunday. Rubby De La Rosa and Jon Lester pitched gems and Brock Holt swung a red-hot bat (four doubles in four ABs on Sunday).

The Sox hit the road on a seven-game win streak before old friend Justin Masterson shut the offense down for 7 innings on Monday night en route to a 3-2 Cleveland win. The offensive silence continued for the remainder of the series as the Indians swept the Red Sox courtesy of a walk-off 12 inning home run from Asdrubal Cabrera on Wednesday night.

The feast or famine Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Tigers tonight in Detroit.

De La Rosa Gets Called Up, Dazzles
De La Rosa was promoted to fill the hole created by Clay Buchholz’s trip to the DL. But he may be here to stay for a while if Saturday’s performance is a sign of things to come. From the ‘mikey lowell of the sandbox’ on the Sons of Sam Horn message board:

Rubby de la Rosa’s 2014 major league debut was nothing short of spectacular. 100+ heat? Check – Rubby rang the bell at 100.5 mph in the third inning, touched 98 as late as the seventh inning, and averaged 96.6 on 39 fastballs. Dominant changeup? Check – 46 changeups, 37 for strikes, 13 for whiffs, in any count and to any location. Legitimate secondary pitches? Check – 12 sliders, mostly to RHB, and 3 of them for whiffs; and 8 sinkers, averaging 95.3 mph. De la Rosa pitches backwards — throwing fastballs out of the strike zone and changeups for strikes. He doesn’t seem to get distracted by runners on base.

De La Rosa is just the latest reminder that pitching really isn’t this team’s problem. Through Wednesday, the Red Sox pitching staff led the major leagues with a total of 9.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The Braves (8.1), Yankees (7.7), Athletics (7.5) and Nationals (7.3) rounded out the top five best staffs in terms of overall WAR. (For those out there who enjoy the Cherington Screwed Up the Bullpen narrative: that 9.5 WAR includes a major league-leading 3.2 from relievers.)

Garin Cecchini Gets Called Up, Gets a Hit, Goes Back Down
One of the organization’s top prospects saw unexpected game action on Sunday when Dustin Pedroia was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. The infielder was up as a one-day band-aid with Stephen Drew not slated to return until the following series in Cleveland. It was a sip of coffee rather than a cup. But Cecchini made the most of it with a beautiful, inside-out swing for a double and his first major league hit.

Mookie Betts Gets Called Up…To Pawtucket…
News of Betts’ promotion to the PawSox came over the transom on Tuesday. From the GM:

“You look at his performance over the course of the season to date and he’s really excelled in every area of the game,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “He’s controlling the strike zone, he’s running the bases, he’s playing defense, he’s obviously hitting, he’s hitting for power, and I think at some point, we have an obligation to challenge our young players when they are performing at a level where it’s not certain that they’re being challenged, it’s up to us to make sure that they’re being challenged.”

If Cherington is being genuine here, Betts has to be considered a viable candidate to contribute to the big club later this season, either as a mid-season “acquisition” in lieu of a significant deal prior to the non-waiver deadline on July 31 or as a September call-up.

Jon Lester’s Revival and David Ross
Jeff Sullivan writes that Jon Lester’s on pace to shatter the number of called third strikes located outside of the strike zone he’s accumulated in a single season. While some of those punchouts are surely due to perfect execution from Lester, David Ross’ ability to frame the outside corner should not be overlooked. Lester has, based on Baseball Savant’s pitch tracking tool, reaped the benefit of 27 punchouts in which the pitch was outside of the strike zone.  

With Pierzynski, in three games, Lester has registered five called strikeouts. Three were out of the zone. With Ross, in nine games, Lester has registered 34 called strikeouts, and 24 of them were out of the zone. Ross, as a catcher, doesn’t lead baseball in called strikeouts on balls, but that’s because he isn’t a regular starter. On a rate basis, he’s No. 1. Here’s some work between Lester and Ross from Sunday afternoon:

At the moment, there might be no better battery than Lester and Ross. Or maybe there are better batteries, but this is a good twist for Lester and for his career, as he’s posting ace-like numbers in a season in which his team badly needs them. Lester has lifted his strikeouts, and a big part of that has been working with his catcher to expand the called strike zone. To a reasonable extent this should be sustainable, and it doesn’t look like there are many reasons for the Red Sox to have Pierzynski catch Lester all that often. Jon Lester’s always had the pitches he’s throwing. Right now he’s finding a way to get the most out of them.

We’re all for any useful data that helps to justify keeping A.J. Pierzynski’s at-bats to a minimum.

Boston Drafts Two High Schoolers in First Round
The Red Sox took two high school players as their first two selections in a draft for the first time since 2002. Boston took shortstop Michael Chavis with the 26th pick of the first round and pitcher Michael Kopech with their compensatory selection (for Jacoby Ellsbury).

From ESPN analyst Keith Law:

Their first-rounder, Michael Chavis, was getting consideration in the teens as a polished high school bat who makes a lot of hard contact but doesn’t have projection and will have to move off shortstop; it’s funny that the Sox took him, as I see some similarities to Dustin Pedroia -– both hitters have great hand-eye coordination with unorthodox swings, and Pedroia also was a shortstop who had no physical projection and had to move to second base in pro ball. In between those picks they took a hard-throwing Texas right-hander in Michael Kopech, who brings mid-90s velocity with a sharp slider but a funky, arm-heavy delivery that the Sox might have to tame to keep him healthy.

 

 

 

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This Week in Boston Baseballing, May 2 – 8

The Red Sox took two of three at home last weekend against the Oakland Athletics, who were one of the best and most consistent teams in the American League in April. Last at-bat heroics from Grady Sizemore (Tuesday in 12 innings) and Will Middlebrooks (Wednesday) earned Boston its first “sweep” of the season in a two-game set against the Reds in interleague action. The Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Texas Rangers tonight in Arlington.

The AL East Pennant Race Is Looking Historically Tight
Writing for ESPN Insider, ZiPs projection system creator Dan Szymborski noted that at the beginning of the week, the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Rays were projected to finish with 83 wins while the Blue Jays were on pace for 81 wins. As things stand right now, this could be the most exciting finish since the 1988 Morgan’s Miracle Red Sox.

Among tight races, where does this possible one rank historically? Going through the million sims of the ZiPS-projected AL East final standings for 2014, the average standard deviation for the teams in the division is 3.27 wins. To compare this historically, I repeated this simple measure of spread for the top five teams in every divisional and league race going back to 1901 and found that, yes, this projects to be an unusually open race.

….

1. 1988 AL East, 1.48

2. 1973 NL East, 1.92

3. 1964 NL, 2.00

4. 1967 AL, 3.21

5. 1915 Federal League, 3.24

6. 2014 AL East, 3.27 (projected)

7. 1987 AL West, 3.35

8. 1933 NL, 3.56

9. 2005 NL East, 3.81

10. 1940 AL 3.90

The projections don’t take into account all the moves, demotions and promotions that these teams will make over the summer. Boston could go the route of bludgeoning its middling competition by dealing away a number of its prospects for somebody like Giancarlo Stanton. Or Ben Cherington may opt to ride it out with his solid core of veterans and hope that a handful of the youngsters provide the adequate complementary pieces for another title run.

The Jon Lester Contract Saga
It’s becoming clear that Boston’s reported 4-year, $70 million offer to Jon Lester earlier this spring was nothing close to a beginning overture for where the negotiations will ultimately travel. Lester’s dominant 15-strikeout performance on Saturday rekindled the debate about his worth. Fenway fans got to see what six years and $100 million got the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, when their “ace” Homer Bailey came into town and underwhelmed in battling Felix Doubront to a stalemate that ultimately took 12 innings to settle.

From Buster Olney’s column on Wednesday:

Homer Bailey’s career ERA is 4.30, and he’s had two seasons in which he has thrown over 200 innings. He has not pitched to the level of a Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, or even a Matt Cain. He’s never had any kind of a vote for the Cy Young Award, and has never been picked for an All-Star team.

But Bailey has managed to shift perceptions in the market, when he got a six-year, $105 million deal from the Reds in February. To agents and players, this deal seems to represent a new benchmark that has ratcheted up their expectations. For some club officials, the Bailey contract represents one giant wrench dropped right into the middle of salary machinations.

So if you’re sitting in Jon Lester’s position, as a star left-hander with two championship rings just five months from free agency, a $70 million offer from the Red Sox might appear almost ridiculous, within the context of the Bailey contract.

MOOKIE!
On Sports on Earth, Matthew Kory writes that Portland Sea Dogs second baseman Mookie Betts may be the most exciting player in the minor leagues right now.

A year ago, Betts was in Single-A hitting .145/.340/.263. He had some on-base ability (nothing wrong with a .340 on-base percentage), but as a hitter he was rarely squaring the ball up and had no power to drive it when he did. He was just another athlete with few baseball skills, another small guy in a big man’s game. He looked overmatched. Had he been on any top prospect lists at the time (he wasn’t) that would have pushed him off. One year ago, Mookie Betts was an afterthought in Boston’s minor league system.

… what he has done over the last 365 days (hit .360/.429/.557) is tremendous.

… The numbers themselves are staggering. Here’s a bullet point list:

  • More walks than strikeouts last season…

  • … and this season, too.

  • Almost as many extra base hits as strikeouts (55 to 57) last season.

  • More doubles than strikeouts this season, let alone homers and triples.

  • An on-base streak of more than 60 consecutive games.

mookie betts

With Dustin Pedroia signed through the end of the decade, there is plenty of discussion already among fans and scouts about whether Betts could be a viable outfielder. While his value would be diminished if he were to move off his defensive position at 2B to go to right field, it’s hard not to selfishly hope the Sox try it out if it means he contributes to the club sooner. Perhaps the more intriguing option would be to trade Middlebrooks (look, he had a walk-off hit!) and explore moving Betts to third base. That option could create yet another dilemma with Garin Cecchini still regarded as a top-tier prospect, albeit one with a lot less power than what would be ideal for a corner infielder.

Betts’ hot start is just another reminder that even as the big-league club hovers around .500 and underwhelms in the early going of the 2014 season, the organization remains in an enviable position with its depth and roster of exciting youngsters.