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Posts Tagged ‘Trot Nixon’

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.

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An Ode to Defense

In Keep Updated on June 16, 2013 at 6:59 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

With the Stanley Cup Finals getting underway in Chicago, it seems like a good time to discuss what it is that wins championships. In all four major sports that (pitching and) defense win championships is such a truism that it has become clichéd. And yet, in all four leagues, fans seem to prefer offense, and the rules are being changed to give the people what they want. In baseball, they say that chicks dig the long ball (and Selig turned a blind eye to steroids because fans of both genders flocked to the power displays), the NFL has become an outdoor version of arena football, basketball caved in to those who love offense decades ago when they invented the three ball, and in hockey the 2005 season saw shrunk goalie equipment to facilitate more scoring and thereby boost TV ratings. The people have clearly spoken, and they love offense. Thus, the odds say that you, whoever you are dear reader, will think I’m crazy when I say: I love defense!!!

Seriously, I love defense. I love seeing a great pitching duel is baseball. A lot of people complain there is no action in them, but to me watching two pitchers dominate hitters is amazing, especially as they each know one mistake will be the game because the other guy is lights out. Great pitching beats great hitting, and it is beautiful to watch guys with nasty stuff make the sluggers look silly. Sure, I grew up in the steroids era, but the memories that stand out most are not the bombs Big Mac, Slammin’ Sammy and Company launched. It’s Pedro’s historic dominance in 1999, Nomar Garciparra going deep in the hole at short and making it look easy over and over again, Trot Nixon crashing into walls and coming away with the ball.

In football and basketball, no one ever doubts that defense wins championships. It isn’t sexy, especially in basketball, but watching one’s team manhandle the other team’s superstar scorers is amazing. Now there are flashy defensive plays like the pick six or the epic blocked shot. But just as beautiful to me is the goal line stand, the tackle for loss, the nose tackle stuffing the run as if he knew the play before it was called. When the Celtics won the title in 2008, the way they played on offense was great, but it was the shutdown D, Perkins neutralizing Dwight Howard and the like, that was truly a joy to watch.

Last but not least there is hockey. Let’s just look at the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins were the highest scoring team in the regular season and were historically prolific in the playoffs. But then you have Jaromir Jagr putting Crosby on the ice and probably saying, “son, I have aches that are older than you,” and Gregory Campbell redefining “taking one for the team” when he broke this leg blocking a shot. How can you not love the toughness and dedication of guys who go to the ice to block pucks with their bodies before they can get to the goalie? There was a truly sensational series in the final minute of Game 4 where a Bruin was on the ice in the shooting lane, and a teammate who has between him and the net dove over him to get at the puck him as if throwing himself on a grenade. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, defense is where it’s at.

So call me a relic, call me what’cha will; say I’m old fashioned, say I’m over the hill, but while you tune in to watch the superstars run up the score, my heart lies with the defense trying to stop them.

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