Tag Archives: Red Sox

This Week in Boston Baseballing, October 11 – 17

After Boston got shut out in Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday night, 1-0, the Red Sox came back from a 5-0 deficit during Sunday night’s Game 2 emotional victory. Offense at Comerica Park was at a premium during the next three games, but Boston somehow managed to win two of three, including wins against two of the best pitchers in the AL this year in Justin Verlander and Anibel Sanchez.

The Red Sox are one win away from a third World Series appearance in 10 years. Clay Buchholz takes the mound for Boston on Saturday against Max Scherzer.

The Koji Factor
Koji Uehara recorded the final five outs of the game last night. They didn’t come nearly as easily as the outs he’s been getting over the last few months. The Tigers extracted 27 pitches out of Koji, even managing to lay off eight of his offerings. But the game, even a one-run game, felt a lot more secure in his hands than anyone else’s. Uehara retired all five batters he faced, striking out two.

Big Papi Did It Again

The legend was already pretty well set in place before the 2013 playoffs began.These last few years of regular season production felt like they could have been the icing on the cake. Now, it feels like there may be a few more layers to this guy’s mystique. You know the guy is pretty well established when it takes four minutes to piece together all the late-innings heroics he’s managed in the postseason alone.

Napoli Starts Mashing
Mike Napoli has always been a streaky hitter. Boston’s willingness to ride out the slumps now look to be paying dividends. Napoli’s solo home run Tuesday paced Boston’s unexpected victory against Verlander and his 440-foot shot to dead center last night led the way during a 3-for-4 night.

Napoli HR off Sanchez

Stan Grossfeld Still Has It
The sense here is that most people feel they have to categorize the shot of the Boston Police officer in the bullpen as iconic because of unfortunate events earlier this year that have thrust law enforcement personnel into the spotlight. Even Deadspin, which rarely passes up the chance to pick nits when it comes to Bostonian sports fan behavior, called the Stan Grossfeld shot at the front of Monday’s Boston Globe Sports section the “Photo of the Year.” Maybe that’s as fair a take as any.

Can’t we all just agree it’s nice to see a Boston Police officer do anything in uniform other than stand at an intersection and stare at a smartphone while a jackhammer screeches behind him?

John Lackey Continues His Renaissance
Lackey’s dominant performance in which he outdueled Justin Verlander on Tuesday afternoon was not only one of the best games of the pitcher’s career but also, given the context, one of the best starts by a Red Sox pitcher in the team’s playoff history.

From Jonah Keri on Grandland:

Of the 97 pitches he threw Tuesday night, Tigers hitters swung and missed at 16 of them, including six whiffs out of the 31 sliders thrown.

Somehow, what John Lackey has done in 2013 has nearly vindicated all of the drudgery of his first two years in Boston. It is almost as though his first two years, followed by his missing 2012 after Tommy John surgery, were a test of tolerance and patience – one in which we all failed as fans one way or another.

This would be the guy taking the ball in a potential Game 7.

Figuring Out Who John Farrell Trusts Is Getting More Confusing
Generally speaking, it appears the Red Sox manager determines the level of trust he has in a given player based primarily on seniority. One can make pretty solid, albeit debateable arguments he left two veterans in their respective ALCS starts too long – Clay Buchholz in Game 2 and Jake Peavy in Game 4. Moreover, Farrell has steadfastly refused to replace the struggling Stephen Drew in the lineup. Second-year “veteran” Will Middlebrooks also continued getting starts up until Game 5, when Xander Bogaerts was finally given a well-deserved look.

Meanwhile, there is a good possibility that Farrell occasionally gets swept up in the same narratives that are advanced by the media. For example, he declined to pinch hit Daniel Nava for Jonny Gomes in the 8th last night against right-hander Jose Veras.

None of this is really surprising to anyone paying attention to Farrell’s bullpen usage this season, when he exhibited a puzzling trust in rookie Brandon Workman during several key late and high-leverage situations. It appears younger players, especially rookies, have limited opportunity to impress Farrell enough to be given special leeway. Established veterans, meanwhile, are Established Veterans™.

Farrell has done an incredible job this year managing the team. But going forward, he’ll need to develop a better stomach for playing prospects because this is likely a ballclub that will only continue to get younger during the next few years. Maybe Bogaerts’ steady performance on Thursday night in which he doubled, scored a run and saw 19 pitches in just three ABs will help open Farrell’s mind when assessing younger players as viable options.

Fun with Bill James Projections: Red Sox hitters and their expected 2013 stat lines

Bill James’ projection system has earned a reputation over the years of being a bit optimistic, particularly when it comes to forecasting younger players’ playing time and number of at bats given the potential for injury. But with James’ expanded role in the Boston front office this offseason, perhaps the projections that carry his namesake provide some insight into the way the Red Sox front office is thinking in the days leading up to the post-Thanksgiving signing frenzy.

Via Fangraphs’ individual player pages, a summary of key Red Sox hitters’ 2013 projections, their actual 2012 numbers and the positive/(negative) change.

The system is bullish on Dustin Pedroia’s chances for a rebound season after a down year that can be blamed partly on injuries. But would that 2013 line be enough for a contract extension in the neighborhood of $20m per year for a 2B?

David Ortiz
Fans would gladly take this kind of cumulative production in 600(!) at bats from Big Papi – even if it meant a fall back to earth in rate stats.

Will Middlebrooks
James’ system projects a continuation of what Middlebrooks showed in his rookie season.

Jacoby Ellsbury
This type of full season from Ellsbury looks eerily similar to Carl Crawford’s averages during his last couple years in Tampa.

Pedro Ciriaco
Ciriaco isn’t an everyday player in any world other than Bobby Valentine’s.

Daniel Nava
Nava slots in somewhere between a fourth outfielder and just another body the team can throw in the outfield.

Jose Iglesias
It may be telling that a projection system known for optimism still expects Iglesias’ weighted on-base average to be around .250. That may just be good enough if he keeps gloving every ball hit in his general vicinity.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Salty can’t possibly strike out as much as he did in 2012 again? James’ system doesn’t think so…

Ryan Lavarnway
We think maybe Ben Cherington hard-coded this very bullish stat line into the output for trade leverage…

Jerry Sands
As mentioned earlier, James’ system takes some liberties in assuming teams will find younger players plenty of big league at bats.

Red Sox Catchers
Speaking of catchers, James’ projections put to rest any potential debate if the Sox go into camp with Salty, Lavarnway and David Ross on the roster. Any combination of two of the three major league catchers on the roster as of this writing would be expected to provide the lineup with above-average power and overall production.

Also, some free agents that are on the team’s radar.

And just for fun – Kevin Youkilis is expected to rebound into a form more recognizable to his peak years in Boston. No true Sox fan can begrudge Youker a few more years of success – even if it’s somewhere else.

MLB umps: ‘Of course opposing pitchers are squeezed at Fenway’

BOSTON–Some call it the most conclusive evidence yet that Whitey Bulger is still very much alive. Others blame it on a power-hungry mayor who wields far too much pull in the inner workings of the city, including the fortunes of the Hub’s professional baseball team.

Whatever the causes, the data is irrefutable: Umpires are simply afraid to call a third strike on a Red Sox batter in late inning situations at Fenway Park. In a city that cares so deeply about their beloved local nine, umpires take a substantial risk in calling strikes during late-game situations.

The latest evidence came in Wednesday night’s dramatic 9-8 comeback victory in which Nick Green appeared to take a game-ending third strike from Brian Fuentes. The pitch was called ball four and Green’s walk drew in the game-tying run, much to the chagrin of Mike Scioscia, a former player so bland in personality during his playing days that the writers for The Simpsons didn’t even bother naming the mysterious ailment that kept him from playing for the Springfield Isotopes in a 1992 episode. After the game, the Angels manager and several players intimated that umpires’ non-calls on Red Sox hitters is a chronic issue.

One former and one current Major League umpire are confirming the Late-Inning Fenway Factor bias, a phenomenon unrivaled at other ballparks around the league.

“Do you want the lingering members of the Irish and Italian mob coming after you?” asked a former MLB umpire speaking on condition of anonymity. “Boston’s drug and gambling rackets dried up years ago…All these guys do now is watch baseball and complain about the umpiring. They know us all by name…I guarantee it. Down in New York, the mobsters have better things to do, but not up here…”

Others explain the phenomenon as a symptom of Mayor Thomas Menino’s unchecked power over the city’s operations, a key rallying cry of mayoral hopefuls Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty.

“What if I want to paint the shutters on my house in West Roxbury? You think Mayor Menino’s gonna back the BRA zoning to do that if I’m the reason the Sox lost?” reasoned a current American League umpire who worked a series at Fenway earlier this summer.

The retired umpire concurred. “Menino’s only but a few miles away and ready to sic his cronies on us any minute. Whitey worries me the most, though. What if he’s watching in Thailand or Fiji or the North Pole or wherever he is and decides to come back and exact some justice on one of us for a bad call? It’s not worth it.”

“If it’s close, you call it a ball…everyone knows that,” said the active AL ump.

Pitch f/x data analyses indicate that, indeed, called strikes at Fenway Park are rare when Red Sox players are batting in the seventh inning or later. Analysts suggest that high-walk-rate players such as J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis would have on-base percentages about 50 points below their current levels were it not for the Late-Inning Fenway Factor.

“My guess is that the umpire last night knew darn well that pitch to Green was strike three,” said the retired umpire. “And that guy at first wasn’t going to ring him up on that check swing, either. I know for a fact that guy has a grandson in the Boston school system. Menino would ship that kid out to some charter school in Roxbury so quick his head would spin.”

Verbal abuse from the fans was also cited as an explanation for the Late-Inning Fenway Factor bias.

“Some of the things these people yell about me and – god rest her soul, about my late mother – are just awful,” said the active umpire. “And those Boston accents they have…they just make everything come out so hurtful. Fans in other cities like St. Louis are just too classy to yell things like you hear in Boston. If I call a strike on a Cardinals player, the fans applaud my honesty.”

Economy, Boston teams’ success taking toll on local scalper/philanthropist

BOSTON, Mass–Ignoring the presence of a few early morning stragglers milling around Yawkey Way and Brookline Ave., Billy Moriarty sidles up to the side of a building, lowers the pants of his blue Adidas tracksuit and urinates on the faded brick wall facing out toward an empty parking lot. Moriarty, 49, snaps his elasticized pants back against his gut and yawns audibly, looking disheveled and exhausted. A long night at the hospital will do that to a man.

Crossing over the Brookline Ave. bridge slowly, Moriarty effectively arrives at his concrete office: For over 20 years, he has supported himself by scalping tickets to Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics games. A mainstay of the Boston sports scene for decades, games can’t be considered ‘big games’ if Moriarty isn’t hawking tickets at a hefty profit. With the Red Sox’ popularity swelling to epic proportions over the last 10 years, Moriarty’s Fenway post has become his bread and butter.

For 81 games each season, Moriarty’s primary job description is scalping Red Sox tickets at his usual post across from Uno’s and Popeye’s Chicken in Kenmore Square. The occupation has become lucrative enough to free him from three decades of living with his mother in a cramped triple-decker in Charlestown and deliver him into a lush, one-bedroom apartment in Roslindale. Not that he ever gets to sleep in his own bed these days.

“Yeah, I sleep there once a week, maybe–when I don’t end up in the hospital all night,” says Moriarty.

Surprisingly, it is not the dangerous, shady world of ticket scalping that lands Moriarty in hospital rooms so frequently. Rather, a newfound life mission has transformed the once reprehensible, skeevy scalper.

“I do volunteer work reading books to kids with cancer at Dana Farber Cancer Institute,” he explains. “I‘d say I‘m there just about every night of the week for five to six hours at least.”

While it is undoubtedly a noble cause Moriarty has undertaken, it has nonetheless rendered him a zombie during daylight hours. His moonlighting as a de facto children’s librarian has quite obviously begun to consume him—bags hang lazily over his sleepless eyes, stubble grows unevenly from his tired face, a stale cigarette stench emanates from his clumsily constructed, ill-maintained physique. His voice has become all but a deliberate rasp, angrily hissing from his throat as though to make his listener shudder.

During the winter months, with just the Celtics and Bruins in season, Moriarty has the occasional night off. But this April has become the perfect storm of commitments now that the Celtics and Bruins are all but assured to still both be playing at least until May. Halfway through a two-week Red Sox homestand, the side effects are already evident. 

“This is just the beginning for me,” says Moriarty. “I just hope sales start to pick up once the weather gets warmer…Tickets aren’t exactly in high demand right now. Times are tough. People aren’t snatching up these tickets an hour before the game starts anymore. I’m here unloading seats until the fourth inning at half face value.” Indeed, even the Red Sox have resorted to some rather predictable, blunt marketing techniques in order to meet historical ticket sale levels. 

This is bad news for Moriarty. The volume of tickets Moriarty is able to flip onto Red Sox fans directly affects his hospital reading routine. After struggling with an alcohol addiction in his more formidable years, Moriarty fended off his dependence by turning to stimulants including cocaine, adderol, Ritalin, oxycontin and other—as he calls them—“cocktails” that help him live his crazy double life.

“I operate on a cash basis in all my business transactions,” Moriarty explains. “If I have less cash from Sox ticket sales coming in than in years past, I don’t get my medications and, unfortunately, the kids I read to suffer. I can’t stay awake all night without my cocktails. And it’s not like I can sell these kids the scattered singles I have left at the end of the night. They’re bedridden, for crissakes. ”

Composing himself, Moriarty takes a long, deliberate gulp of Vick’s 40 cough syrup and chases it with a Monster energy drink to help lubricate his voice box. Hardened and crusty as he is, Moriarty has a gentle side that he rarely shows the outside world. He rebuffs repeated requests to have his photograph taken reading to children and is adamant that no one interrupt this very personal aspect of his life.

Similarly, he refuses to provide names for any of the children he reads to for fear that they will be exploited. His name, he says, will not be familiar if run past hospital officials since he uses an alias–which he also refuses to disclose. 

“My favorite nights are the ones where I’m really feeling connected with a certain character and I start to talk like them in one of my fantasy voices. Sometimes a crowd of like five or ten kids just herds around me. It feels like I‘ve got box seats for the World Series.”

Moriarty is a sucker for the classics when it comes to his choice of reading material. “I’ve probably read the text for Charlotte’s Web aloud over 100 times since I started volunteering,” says Moriarty. “But I’m just as big a fan of Dr. Seuss’ There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and The Touch Me Book as the next guy. A lot of the kids are actually pretty big baseball fans. I’ve read the 2009 Bill James Baseball Handbook to a couple of kids over the last few months. They really seemed to like that. Sometimes we get into pretty heated discussions about stuff — you know, player projections and all that.”