Sports Opinion & Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Dempster’

Dear Ben, I’m Sorry

In MLB, Uncategorized on September 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

By Chris Hallenbrook

Dear Ben Cherington,

I’m sorry. This past offseason every time you made a major addition I criticized you for overpaying for aging, mediocre ballplayers. I was entirely convinced that your judgment was shot and that thanks to your inability to be bold the best the 2013 Red Sox could hope for was a return to the .500 mark. Well, so much for that. Here’s the rundown of this past offseason, my complaints and why I was wrong.

Shane Victorino – Coming off a pedestrian .255/.321/.383 season with the Phillies and Dodgers, it seemed utterly insane to be giving him $13 million a year for 3 years at the age of 32. I still think the contract was too rich, but his contribution to the team far exceeds his massively improved .295/.353/.453. He has been crashing into walls in right a la Trot Nixon despite playing with pain most of the season. In fact, since August the career switch hitter has been batting exclusively from the right side due to a bad hamstring, and has continued putting up big numbers and delivering the key hits despite not having faced right-handed pitching from the right side of the plate since his days in high school. He’s a gamer.

Mike Napoli – I put Napoli in the same boat as Victorino this past offseason, namely a declining veteran who should have been signed on the cheap, not for top dollar. But as with Victorino, he’s been a grinder, playing through plantar fasciitis, playing in more games than he has since 2010 and producing more than his .258 batting average suggests. Despite slumping across the summer months, he was white hot in April and May, helping the Sox to a badly needed quick start, and is now hitting well over .400 for the month of September. Talk about playing your best when it matters most.

Johnny Gomes – To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this acquisition because I didn’t see him doing anything notable. Boy, was I wrong about that. Sure he’s only hit .238, but he has been a valuable fourth outfielder, ably filed the holes when guys got hurt and oh yeah, he has hit four pinch hit home runs with a .515 batting average in over twenty pinch hit appearances. He embodies the main cause of the Red Sox’s turnaround, which he articulated a month ago when he remarked that “Heart and hustle are two things you can’t fake. Bring those two things every single day and the baseball gods will reward you.”

Ryan Dempster – Oh yeah, I just loved bringing in a 36 year old pitcher whose career ERA versus the AL East was over 4.00. I’m pretty sure I wanted to have your sanity checked after that one Ben. And admittedly, I’m not too sure I’m willing to take this one back given his 4.46 ERA. Then again, the man eats innings, which is always a plus, and you turned Jose “Iggy” Iglesias into Jake Peavy, who has had nothing but filthy stuff since joining the Red Sox, so it all comes out in the wash.

The Bullpen – As Matthew Perry tells fantasy baseball owners “don’t pay for saves.” I used to say that Theo Epstein needed an Assistant General Manager in Charge of Shortstops. You need an Assistant General Manager in Charge of the Bullpen (or at least closers). Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan have done nothing for this team, and cost assets including Jed Lowrie, JJ Reddick, Mark Melancon and other prospects. Melancon is especially galling as you gave up on him after only one year despite the fact that relievers are notorious for their ups and downs, thereby allowing all Red Sox fans the joy of watching him post an otherworldly 1.38 ERA in 68.1 innings (and counting) for the Pirates. That said, you pulled Koji Uehara out of nowhere and watched as he retired 37 consecutive batters in one of the most dominant closing performances since Dennis Eckersley played in Oakland (further proving Berry’s point).

So all in all, you were right and I was wrong. What do you know, maybe you are more qualified for the job than I am…nah, let’s not push it. I’ll just stick with saying “I’m sorry.”

Confused and Grateful,

Chris Hallenbrook

PS – all stats were as of the end of day on 9/19/13

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @CHallenbrook.

Advertisements

The Whiplash Red Sox

In MLB on April 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

One of the great things about baseball is the unpredictability of it. You can watch games your whole life and yet never know what you are going to see at the ballpark on any given night, and on any of those nights you may see something you have never seen before. In recent years, no team has embodied that unpredictability quite as vividly as the Boston Red Sox. All of two years ago, in the sunny spring and summer of 2011, all seemed well on Yawkey Way. In the offseason Theo Epstein had signed free agent speedster and all-around Red Sox killer Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, making the Red Sox a near-consensus pundit pick to face the Phillies in the World Series. Then, the infamous September of chicken and beer struck, and an inability to win on consecutive days led to an MLB record collapse as the Sox led the Wild Card race by 9 games on September 3rd and still failed to make the playoffs. Then, in the blink of a eye, Terry Franconca was scapegoated was fired quit in one final act of being a good company man, Theo Epstein fled to a more desperate fan base accepted a new challenge with the Cubs, Bobby Valentine was brought in as the new sheriff in town, and having all the talent in the world led to the worst Red Sox season since 1965 and an unprecedented waiver-wire trade that blew up the team and dumped a quarter of a billion dollars in salary on the Dodgers. Just like that, a team that was slated to compete for championships for years to come looked like it was ready to be dead and buried for just as long.

All of which brings us to the 2013 edition. After an offseason of overpaying for aging mediocrity, the Red Sox were picked to finish dead last by ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated and most staffers at The Boston Globe, and had the makings of a squad that couldn’t take candy from a baby. And yet as of the end of the day on April 26, the Red Sox have been in first place every day this season, setting a franchise record for longest stretch in first to start the season and own a 16-7 mark that constitutes the best record in baseball. Once the dizziness goes away from all these mad swings, the question left to ask is: how on Earth have they done it?

1) Pitching. Talk about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Last year this pitching staff absolutely killed the Red Sox, with the starting rotation posting a hideous ERA of 5.42. Josh Beckett pitched his way out of town over 127 and a third ulcer-inducing innings, Jon Lester looked washed up at the age of 28 and Clay Buchholz had us all wondering if he would ever live up to his potential. This season? Buchholz seems to have finally put it all together, starting the season 5-0 in five starts with a 1.19 ERA, which is akin to Bob Gibson’s 1968 season for the ages. Jon Lester has returned to ace form, with the Sox winning all his games. In Lester’s case the turnaround is made all the more impressive given that even in his best seasons he has been shaky at best in April with a near 4 ERA to compare to this year’s 2.27. The change since the return of pitcher whisperer John Farrell has been so remarkable that if I didn’t know better I’d think that last year was just an act to get Bobby V fired. But whatever it is that caused the turnaround, with the Sox two home grown studs throwing like aces, Ryan Demptser making a mockery of claims that he couldn’t hack it in the American League, and the bullpen answering the bell on a nightly basis (it is amazing how much better your bullpen is when your starters can actually make it to the 7th inning), last year’s Achilles heel is this year’s juggernaut.

2) Hitting. While pitching has been the driving force behind the resurrection of the Red Sox, the offense has certainly made the pitchers’ lives easier. When David Ortiz went on the DL to start the year, Sox fans were understandably worried about where the firepower was going to come from in the post-Gonzalez era. But as it turns out, such fears were unnecessary as Mike Napoli has been white hot, Jacoby Ellsbury is reminding us of what we can do when healthy and overall the Sox are scoring runs as though they were the ones who stole traded for almost every good player the Miami Marlins had.

3) Grit. I’m not going to try to argue that tenacity and wanting it more will always prevail over talent, but it is undisputable that baseball is so physically demanding that mental toughness is essential to long run success. We have yet to see how this team holds up after a long losing streak or after a rash of injuries, but we do know a couple of things. One is that this team was utterly unfazed by David Ortiz starting the season on the DL and averaged a healthy five runs a game in his absence. The other is that when bombs struck at the heart of Boston, these guys rallied to support the city and the people that has supported them for so long. The day after the attack they had a “617 Boston Strong” jersey in the visiting dugout in Cleveland and looked like they wanted to cry as they stood on the foul line for a moment of silence. They’ve channeled that emotion on the field, winning their first four and eight of eleven since the marathon bombings, all while telling Boston “this is our f-ing city…stay strong” in the words of Big Papi. I’m not saying that this will carry them into October, but if history has taught us anything it is to never underestimate a team that is playing with emotion, with purpose and with pride.

Can it last? I have no idea. In general terms it takes two months to get a feel for the true nature of a baseball team, and as the 2011 Red Sox showed, you can never truly know before crunch time. There is plenty that can derail this team, including injuries (I lose sleep over Papi’s Achilles), age (Victorino, Napoli and Dempester aren’t exactly in their prime) and regression to the mean (Napoli isn’t going to drive in 27 runs a month and Buchholz isn’t going to finish the season with a 1.19 ERA). That said, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans, especially those of us who hail from Boston, when I say that between the wild ups and downs of the past two seasons, and the moral support they’ve lent us and our city these past two weeks, come what may we will simply fasten our seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

%d bloggers like this: