Red Sox

Why the Red Sox were right to replace pitching coach Dana LeVangie

Why the Red Sox were right to replace pitching coach Dana LeVangie

Name a veteran Red Sox pitcher who exceeded expectations this season, and you'll understand why the team revamped its coaching structure on Tuesday.

The list is short: Eduardo Rodriguez and Brandon Workman. If you want to include rookies Marcus Walden and Josh Taylor, that's fine, but technically they arrived with zero expectations.

The heavy hitters flamed out. Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello posted one of the worst ERAs in baseball while trying to force the team's fastball-up, offspeed-down mantra that never really fit his repertoire. Ace Chris Sale delivered the worst record (6-11) and ERA (4.40) of his career. Nathan Eovaldi got hurt. David Price got hurt. Ryan Brasier crashed and burned. Matt Barnes flamed out. On a smaller scale, Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson regressed.

Following such a disappointing performance, change was inevitable, and on Tuesday it came swiftly. Pitching coach Dana LeVangie is out, retained as a pro scout as he closes in on 30 years with the organization. Assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister has also been reassigned, primarily to the minor leagues, as a VP of pitching development. Advance scout Steve Langone will join LeVangie in pro scouting.

It's tempting to say that injuries to Sale, Price, and Eovaldi cost these men their jobs, and there's some truth to that, but the Red Sox struggled as a staff all year in ways that suggested they were falling behind the times.

Their anti-launch angle approach failed to take into account rivals like the Astros and Yankees, who began to adjust offensively with more level swings that still allowed them to produce record home run totals, especially against fastballs up in the zone — 288 for Houston, 306 for New York — without sacrificing the ability to put the ball in play. The Astros struck out less than any team in baseball, and the Yankees led the AL in line drives.

Red Sox pitchers took a chase approach that became predictable, particularly in the bullpen, where it felt like every reliever threw either fastballs above the letters or curveballs in the dirt. The Red Sox walked more batters (605) than every team except the Marlins, and not even a franchise-record 1,633 strikeouts (10.0/9 IP) could compensate.

Their attempts to simplify the game plan only seemed to make things more complicated. In an act of paranoia straight out of a '70s thriller, they chose to combat sign stealing with something requiring the constant consultation of nuclear codes. Watching Red Sox pitchers step off the mound, scrutinize index cards tucked into their hats, and then give it up anyway became one of the most frustrating sights of an extremely frustrating season.

All of that said, LeVangie would probably still have a job if he had been able to unlock Sale. The team insisted all season that the left-hander's problems were mechanical, even though he ended up shutting it down with elbow issues in August. While his average velocity has dropped considerably from its Red Sox peak of 98 mph in June and July of 2018, the southpaw was still hitting 98 mph this August.

So why were his results so mediocre despite strong peripherals (35.6 K percentage, 3.39 FIP)? He lacked fastball command early in the season, especially up in the zone to right-handers, and his slider periodically lacked bite, too. His slugging percentage allowed on fastballs jumped over 100 points, to .447. His foul ball percentage on sliders — typically a put-away pitch — jumped from 13 percent to 19 percent.

Those are the kinds of results that, fair or not, LeVangie is judged upon, and they were consistently lacking in 2019. The job won't be any easier for his replacement, whose primary task will be keeping the rotation's Big Three healthy and effective. That might be a losing battle.

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Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

The Bartolo Colon trade would never happen today. The Mark Teixeira trade would never happen today. Hell, the Ryan Ludwick trade would never happen today.

Ryan Ludwick? Surely you remember the deal that sent Colon from the Indians to the Expos in 2002 for a massive haul of future All-Stars: Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore. You might also recall that five years later, the Braves kickstarted a rebuild in Texas by swapping Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 363 days of Teixeira.

What you're less likely to remember is the three-way deal on July 31, 2010 that sent Ludwick, two years removed from 37 homers and his only All-Star appearance, to the Padres. San Diego was clinging to a small lead in the NL West and hoped Ludwick would power them to the postseason. He instead hit just .211 and San Diego finished two games behind the Giants in the division and one behind in the Braves in the wild card. No playoffs for you.

The price they paid ended up being far steeper. The Indians joined the trade by sending promising right-hander Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals. The Padres completed the swap by shipping a Double-A pitching prospect to Cleveland. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Corey Kluber.

A decade later, it's hard to imagine a team parting with any one of the prospects listed above, let alone the many-for-one swaps that characterized the first two deals. A player like Ludwick would never command a prospect like Kluber.

And that's a problem, because with the Red Sox debating whether to make Mookie Betts available this winter, they'll be constrained by the fact that teams value prospects more than ever.

"Teams understand the value of their young players and want to find a way to build around them, not necessarily always trade them away," said Twins GM Derek Falvey. "That's why you don't see as many of those players moving anymore."

There was a time when farm systems, especially in big markets, existed primarily to produce prospects to be fed into the trade chipper for established stars. Those days are gone for a variety of factors. For one, teams recognize the importance of building around young, cost-controlled players. For another, the diminished influence of performance-enhancing drugs has restored more traditional aging curves, meaning fewer players remain productive into their late 30s. And for another, teams have become risk-averse, recognizing that if they really want a top-level talent, they can sign him in free agency without surrendering more than a draft pick.

Where this leaves the Red Sox is murky, but it's worth considering the response of White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who never mentioned Betts by name when discussing why his club is unlikely to dip into its considerable well of prospects for a rental, but also didn't make it hard to read between the lines.

Three years ago, the White Sox began discussions with the Red Sox on the deal that would send Chris Sale to Boston for mega-prospect Yoan Moncada and flamethrower Michael Kopech. The White Sox were a mess and effectively starting over. Sale, with three years affordable years remaining on his contract, represented one of the most desirable assets in the game, and the Red Sox weren't the only team to step up.

The Nationals also got involved, and were willing to part with some serious talent, including speedy outfielder Victor Robles and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. At that point, the White Sox made a pact.

"We made a commitment, starting with Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and all of us in the baseball department, that once we got ourselves in the position to be on the opposite end of these trades, where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important for us to still try and remain committed to the long-term," Hahn said. "We were excited to get this process started, where we got the Bostons and the Nationals and the teams talking about acquiring premium talent and using premium prospects to get it. But when we got there, we wanted to do the same thing, but not at the expense of multiple years."

How does this relate to Betts? Let Hahn continue.

"When there's a guy like Chris Sale available who had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world," he said. "If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet. And if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull, because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time. Quick hits don't necessarily do that. After three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something just for an immediate bang in 2020 if we feel it compromises us in the long term. We've paid too big of a price to get to where we're at to compromise long-term."

The White Sox have built a consensus top-three farm system replete with both pitching and position prospects who will soon join young breakout stars like Moncada and AL batting champ Tim Anderson in Chicago. There once was a time when an MVP like Betts would've been too tough to ignore on the open market, even if he represented a risk to fly the coop after a year.

But now? The White Sox see little point in engaging, because acquiring him will just short-circuit the rebuild that is close to bearing fruit.

That kind of patience didn't necessarily exist when teams were willing to trade their best prospects for one shot at the postseason. Now they hoard their prospects because the alternative is trading a future Cy Young Award winner for an outfielder who fails to put you over the top.

Mookie Betts is no Ryan Ludwick, but teams have come to view them similarly for this reason: neither is worth mortgaging the future over anymore.

What type of package could Sox get in return for Betts?>>>>> 

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Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Twenty-two years ago, the Red Sox were coming off a disappointing season where they were an AL East also-ran and big offseason moves were being contemplated for the franchise.

Sound familiar?

Only general manager Dan Duquette, whose team had finished 78-84 and in fourth place in the division, wasn't looking to shed payroll, but add to either the bullpen or starting rotation.

They chose to target the rotation and specifically, to go after the Montreal Expos' Cy Young Award-winning, 26-year-old ace in a trade - rather than Marlins closer Robb Nen, who had just helped that franchise win its first World Series. 

The result was a franchise-altering trade for Pedro Martinez, who tweeted his thanks for the move Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the deal - some would say "steal" - that brought him to Boston.

The Sox traded pitching prospect Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Expos for Martinez, then signed him to a six-year, $75 million contract. Duquette had traded for Martinez once before, four years earlier, when, as GM of the Expos, he acquired Martinez from the Dodgers.

Martinez, of course, would go on to go 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in seven seasons in Boston, some of which were the most dominant ever for a pitcher. His final season culminated with the first Red Sox World Series title since 1918.

So, all new Red Sox baseball boss Chaim Bloom has to do is pull off a deal like that. Simple, right?

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