Red Sox

Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

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Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Yes, Im well aware of the Red Sox nine hits in three games and two lost series in a row, but before you start lining up on the Zakim Bridge, youre really not concerned about the Sox bats are you?

You know the Sox will get many hits from Jacoby, Pedey, Gonzo, Youk, and Papi and an occasional contribution from ReddickDrew, SaltyTek, ScutaroLowrie, and Crawford. So the offense isnt the issue . . . at least until the postseason.

Theres the phrase that pays: At least until the postseason. Once the postseason begins, Sox (and Yankee) hitters dont get to beat up on weak sisters like the Orioles, Royals, and Twins. In the postseason, the name of the game is pitching. And yes, the Sox have reason to worry.

The performance against the Rays staff gives Red Sox Nation a reason to worry because Tampa has postseason quality pitching. Look at their ERA:

Tampas pitching overall 3.67
Tampas starters 3.56
Tampas bullpen 3.96

Now compare it to the overall ERA of all the postseason contenders:
1. Philadelphia 3.08 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.14 (2)
3. Atlanta 3.42 (3)
4. Angels 3.50 (5)
5. Yankees 3.57 (6)
6. Milwaukee 3.69 (10)
7. Texas 3.71 (12)
8. White Sox 3.80 (15)
9. St. Louis 3.83 (16)
10. Cleveland 3.88 (17)
11. Red Sox 3.90 (18)
12. Arizona 4.03 (20)
13. Detroit 4.23 (24)

Lets eliminate the NL and look just at the AL contenders:
1. Angels 3.50 (1 in the AL)
2. Yankees 3.57 (2)
3. Texas 3.71 (5)
4. White Sox 3.80 (7)
5. Cleveland 3.88 (8)
6. Red Sox 3.90 (9)
7. Detroit 4.23 (11)

Overall, all the teams in the AL have a 3.97 ERA, in the NL a 3.84 ERA. Overall in the bigs, teams have a 3.90 ERA which makes the Sox average. When you look at just the American League, you dont feel a lot better. These are rankings that are simply not reassuring in the middle of August as we look toward October.

It only looks worse when we focus solely on the ERA of starting pitching.
1. Philadelphia 2.99 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.28 (2)
3. Angels 3.49 (3)
4. Texas 3.62 (6)
5. Atlanta 3.64 (7)
6. Milwaukee 3.76 (11)
7. Yankees 3.78 (12)
8. St. Louis 3.90 (15)
9. White Sox 3.91 (16)
10. Arizona 4.12 (18)
11. Red Sox 4.13 (19)
12. Detroit 4.18 (20)
13. Cleveland 4.19 (21)

Here are just the AL starters:
1. Angels 3.49 (1 in the AL)
2. Texas 3.62 (3)
3. Yankees 3.78 (6)
4. White Sox 3.91 (7)
5. Red Sox 4.13 (8)
6. Detroit 4.18 (9)
7. Cleveland 4.19 (10)

Overall, all the starters in the AL have a 4.10 ERA, in the NL a 3.98 ERA. In the bigs overall, starters have a 4.04 ERA which makes the Sox starters, by any measure, less than average.

The good news is that the Sox potentially will have to face the Angels or Texas, not both. The bad news is the Sox dont match up well against Texas.

The good news is that the Sox match up really well against the Yankees and so far has owned CC Sabathia, New York's ace. The bad news is that both Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have been pitching better for New York and that significantly improves their rotation.

The good news is that the Sox have to face only one AL Central team. The bad news is no one wants to face Justin Verlander or Justin Masterson and the combination of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Phil Humber is just getting better for Chicago.

The real truth is after Beckett and Lester, the Sox starters are only as good as the offensive support they have from the Boston bats and when faced with strong starters, Lackey, Wakefield, and Bedard, are not as good as the opposition.

The bullpen provides Boston with a measure of relief, so to speak. Heres how the contenders rank:
1. San Francisco 2.95 (1 in the majors overall)
2. Atlanta 2.96 (2)
3. Yankees 3.03 (3)
4. Cleveland 3.31 (5)
5. Philadelphia 3.33 (7)
6. Boston 3.44 (12)
7. Angels 3.52 (13)
8. White Sox 3.52 (14)
9. Milwaukee 3.61 (17)
10. St. Louis 3.69 (18)
11. Arizona 3.77 (19)
12. Texas 3.97 (23)
13. Detroit 4.33 (28)

Here are the bullpen rankings just in the AL:
1. Yankees 3.03 (1 in the AL)
2. Cleveland 3.31 (2)
3. Boston 3.44 (4)
4. Angels 3.52 (5)
5. White Sox 3.52 (6)
6. Texas 3.97 (11)
7. Detroit 4.33 (13)

Overall, all the relievers in the AL have a 3.74 ERA, in the NL a 3.59 ERA, and overall in the bigs, relievers have a 3.66 ERA which makes the Sox relievers better than average.

The good news here is that Boston is very strong in the 8th and 9th innings. For the most part, Daniel Bard has been lights out setting up Jonathan Papelbon, and Papelbon has been mixing his slider and fastball more effectively this season, but there is no shortage of scary moments with him. Dan Wheeler has been improving as much as Matt Albers has been fading and I think Wheeler can make some serious contributions in the postseason. Alfredo Aceves gets the Charlie Sheen Award, he is all about winning, and he does it a lot. The rest of the bullpen is a crapshoot, but hopefully the Sox wont have to go that deep.

The bad news is that the Yankee bullpen is more than Mariano Rivera this year. While Rivera has been shaky of late, the rest of the So-Ro-Mo, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson have been outstanding in the 7th and 8th. You really want to get to the Yankee starters.

The other really bad news is the massive improvement that the Rangers made in their pen at the trading deadline, which you really cant yet see reflected in their overall numbers. While the Yankees stood pat, the Sox added Erik Bedard, the Rangers added Mike Adams, who has a 1.12 ERA, and 1.08 with Texas. And they added Koji Uehara, who has a 0.708 WHIP this season.

So were these nine hits against the Rays an indicator of the Sox capabilities in the postseason? Probably not, but there is reason for concern. Granted the Sox were without David Ortiz when facing the Rays and that changes the face of this lineup. But they could be without Big Papi for up to four games in a World Series, including a Game 7, if they get that far.

Theres the key phrase, if they get far. And only then will we see if the Rays were an ill omen for the Sox.

This weekend, you may pooh-pooh this column as the Sox bats will probably come alive against the weak KC pitching staff.

But the stats in todays Nation STATion are not about the Sox hitters, this is all about the Sox pitching which may not be good enough to contain the opposition if the Boston batters are held in check. That question will not be answered in Kansas City or the rest of this regular season. We will see the answer in the postseason and that will determine how far this team goes.

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press