Baseball BeatDecember 06, 2006
All Things Boston
By Rich Lederer

The Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash of the Winter Meetings on Tuesday by signing free agents J.D. Drew for five years/$70 million and Julio Lugo for four years/$36 million.

Drew and Lugo figure to be major upgrades over Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez. Whether using Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) or Win Shares, it appears as if the newly acquired duo could be worth as many as five or six additional wins next year. Although Drew and Lugo are on the wrong side of 30 (both turned 31 in November), they are actually ever so slightly younger on a combined basis than their predecessors.

Peter Gammons likened Drew to former Boston All-Star Fred Lynn in his ESPN Insider column last Saturday. I'm on board with that comparison. Lefthanded-hitting outfielders both, talented, laid back, and injury prone. While neither fulfilled the huge expectations placed upon them after their outstanding college careers and sizzling debuts in the majors, Lynn was one of the more valuable players in his day and Drew has been a productive force as well.

Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus, in an Unfiltered post, predicts Drew will hit 14 HR next year for his new employer.

Fourteen home runs? What gives? Park effects for one thing. Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher's park which is no longer really warranted. In fact, it's a downright good park for home runs, especially for left-handed hitters; I have its park factor for lefty home runs at 1045. Fenway, conversely, rates as a 903 for left-handed power; only AT&T Park has a lower score.

League effects are another. As I opined earlier today, the superior competition in the American League has become an increasingly important factor in player analysis.

I beg to differ. The Bill James Handbook gave Dodger Stadium a LHB-HR index of 99 for 2006 and 100 for 2004-06, meaning the park is neutral. (It favors RHB with a HR index of 131 in 2006 and 114 in 2004-06.) The Handbook gave Fenway Park a LHB-HR index of 86 for 2006 and 2004-06, suggesting that it suppresses home runs by 14%.

If we use the 20 HR Drew slugged last year as a baseline and assume that he would normally hit about half at home and half on the road, then we could project about 18.5 HR next year based on the above park factors. The reality is that Drew went yard 12 times at Dodger Stadium and 8x on the road. Doubling his away total and adjusting for Fenway Park would result in roughly 15 HR next year.

As Silver points out, the move to the AL could also have a negative impact on Drew's homers in 2007. Perhaps, but it is important to point out that three of the four competitor ballparks in the AL East are friendly to LHB in terms of HR. Yankee Stadium had a LHB-HR park index of 118 from 2004-06, Rogers Centre (Toronto) 116, and Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay) 105. Only Oriole Park at Camden Yards (96) suppresses home runs for LHB. The NL West, on the other hand, is more balanced with Bank One Ballpark (Arizona) and Coors Field (Colorado) heavily favoring HR by LHB and AT&T Park (San Francisco) and Petco Park (San Diego) hurting LHB-HR by a similar degree.

Drew's HR/FB% may give us an indication of how much he was helped or hurt when it comes to longballs last year. Only 14.1% of the 142 flyballs he launched left the park vs. a five-year average of 17.1%. Normalizing his HR/FB% would result in an additional four HR. Shake it all up and I believe it is just as likely that Drew jacks 22 as 14. Of course, these forecasts will be rendered moot if J.D. doesn't play in at least 135 games, a level that he has only attained in four of his eight seasons to date.

[Correction (12/17/06): The park indices in The Bill James Handbook were wrong. Dodger Stadium played to a 120 index for LHB-HR in 2006 and a 109 in 2004-06. It was a 123 and 111, respectively, for RHB. Fenway Park played to a 69 for LHB-HR in 2006 and a 77 in 2004-06. As such, Dodger Stadium enhanced HR for LHB by 20% last year and 9% over the previous three seasons. Fenway, on the other hand, suppressed HR for LHB by 31% in 2006 and 23% in 2004-06. As a result, instead of hitting 12 HR at home (as he did last year), Drew might be expected to go yard about 7-8 times at Fenway.

For the 2004-06 seasons, Toronto's LHB-HR park index was 122, Tampa Bay was a 115, New York 114, and Baltimore 99. These AL East ballparks should help LHB by an average of about 12.5%. By the same token, Arizona was a 141, Colorado 111, San Diego 89, and San Francisco 73. These NL West parks are about 3.5% additive to HR totals for LHB. The difference between the remainder of the ballparks in both leagues would suggest that Drew's HR total on the road would be about 4% lower. If you apply a weighted average based on team schedules, Drew's HR on the road should be about the same. However, the stronger competition in the AL might be a small depressant on these numbers. Applying a more normalized HR/FB% gives Drew an additional four HR. Factoring in the corrected park indices and the other variables and my new HR projection for Drew in 2007 is 18. The wild cards are the number of games he plays and whether his power has been permanently reduced by a weakened shoulder.]

Fenway Park has been kind to Lugo over the years. He has a career line of .330/.384/.496 in 127 plate appearances in Boston. On a go forward basis, one could even argue that Lugo could benefit a tad by facing Tampa Bay's pitching rather than Boston's. He certainly knows the AL East well and has, in fact, hit .286/.358/.431 vs. the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles throughout his career.

Here is how Boston's lineup stacks up for now (with 2006 stats):

                AVG    OBP    SLG
Lugo, SS       .278   .341   .421  
Crisp, CF      .264   .317   .385  
Ortiz, DH      .287   .413   .636   
Ramirez, LF    .321   .439   .619   
Drew, RF       .283   .393   .498   
Youkilis, 1B   .279   .381   .429   
Varitek, C     .238   .325   .400   
Lowell, 3B     .284   .339   .475   
Pedroia, 2B    .191   .258   .303

Should Coco Crisp not return to his 2004-05 form, the Sox could move Kevin Youkilis into the second slot and slide Coco down to as low as eighth in the order. Another option would be to give up a little bit of defense by playing Drew in CF and inserting Wily Mo Pena (.301/.349/.489) in RF. Pena, of course, may end up in LF if the Red Sox ditch Manny Ramirez for much-needed bullpen help.

I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Red Sox trading Pena rather than Ramirez. However, attention all rival GMs, don't say you weren't forewarned. Pena's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .411 last year was the highest in the majors among those with at least 300 plate appearances.

Pena has zero chance of hitting .300 next year. He barely reached that plateau in 2006 despite an unsustainably high BABIP in excess of .400. That's not gonna happen again. Ever. Secondly, Wily Mo whiffed 90 times in 276 AB. Players who strike out in a third of their at-bats don't hit .300. Lastly, Pena hit .322 at home and .276 on the road. If I was a GM, I'd pay more attention to the away stats than those at Fenway. For his career, Pena has put up a line of .243/.297/.455 on the road. He is still young (doesn't turn 25 until January) and will likely improve upon those career numbers but it's a r-e-a-c-h to expect him to hit .300 with Boston or any of the other 29 ball clubs.

Boston's next order of business is coming to terms with Daisuke Matsuzaka. The midnight December 14th deadline is fast approaching. The Red Sox submitted a winning bid of $51,111,111.11 last month to earn the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. That was the easy part. Working out a mutually acceptable deal with Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras will be the more difficult task.

Although Boston is not allowed to work out a side deal with the Seibu Lions, Boras told Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, "no rules exist that would prohibit Seibu from paying money to Matsuzaka to help him come to a decision where he would sign with the Red Sox and the Lions collect their $51.1 million." If that is the case, then this deal should get finalized rather easily. Here is how it gets done:

  • Boston puts up $10 million per year for five years.
  • Seibu kicks back $3M per year to Matsuzaka.
  • Matsuzaka earns $13M per year from 2007-2011.
  • The total outlay for the Red Sox ends up being just over $100M or approximately $20M per season.
  • Seibu nets $36M.
  • Oh, and Boras earns a tidy $4M commission.

Everybody walks away happy. The deal will get done. And the numbers won't be too far off my proposal. The only matter to be resolved is my take. Let's do lunch. Soon.


Are you sure no one who strikes out in 1/3 of their at bats can hit .300?

Howard hit .313 and struck out 31% of the time. I actually think his BA is reasonable, considering how many of hits come in the form of homeruns.

Yes, I'm sure - at least with respect to last year. Howard struck out in 31.2% of his AB. Pena struck out in 32.6% of his AB. Nobody hit .300 and struck out in 33% of their at-bats. Pena and Howard were the two closest but neither accomplished this feat.

Too strike out 1/3 of the time and still hit .300 would essentially need a BABIP of around 0.450 (BA/(1-strike out rate)), which is a very high number to sustain for a whole season.


That's because he hits the ball HARDER than anyone in baseball.

Ryan Howard hit .313 while striking out 31% of the time primarily because he hit many, many more homers than Wily Mo Pena is likely to hit -- and because Howard himself hit .363 on balls in play. Howard himself will also likely struggle to hit .300 again unless he hits even more home runs (which is indeed a possiblity)and/or cuts down on considerably on his strikeouts.

Had Howard struck out a third of the time, his batting average would have fallen 10 points -- although it would have still made .300 with three points to spare. But even Barry Bonds doesn't have a career Batting Average on Balls in Play approaching .363 -- let alone approaching the obscene .411 registered by Wily Mo. Barry's career BABIP is only .289 -- as hard as he hits the ball. Likely the overshift used against him has diminished that mark a bit.

When Barry Bonds hit .328 with 73 homers in 2001, he batted just .268 on balls in play. The following year when he led the NL with a .370 batting average, he hit 46 homers and batted .324 on balls in play. In 2003, he batted .341 with 45 homers and a .313 batting average on balls in play. In 2004, Barry hit .362 with 45 homers and had a .325 Batting Average on Balls In Play.

So in Barry's four great years, he hit a combined .349 while batting just above the league average on balls in play with a .307 BABIP. Barry did so by hitting 209 homers in only 1642 at bats.

Unless Ryan Howard (possible) or Wily Mo Pena (virtually impossible) become home run hitters in the Barry Bonds 2001-2004 mode and cut their strikeouts drastically, don't expect them to hit .300 very often -- if ever again. That is especially true of Pena, who likely should be traded immediately.

Too strike out 1/3 of the time and still hit .300 would essentially need a BABIP of around 0.450 (BA/(1-strike out rate))

That would only be true if a player had no HR. The formula for BABIP = (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR).

It would be stupid for the Red Sox to trade Manny. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer, the best all around hitter in the game. With their current line-up and Ortiz hitting in front of him, they need Manny more than Manny needs them.

I watched most of Pena's pa and his approach and discipline imporved so much through the year. Early on he would swing and miss at any breaking ball from a righty. He was like the dude from the movie major league. But as the year wnet on, he was able to lay off that pitch and beat the hell out of everything else. I htink right now, Pena is a guy that beats up on bad to avg pitchers but looks silly vs good pitchers.

Injury-prone J.D. Drew gets a five-year deal? The Red Sox just shot themselves in both feet.

Pena's always been compared to a young Sosa for his immense raw power and all-or-nothing approach at the plate. That Sosa actually became a decently patient hitter and drew 75-100 walks a year is such an anomaly that it's foolish to think Pena could follow the same path, but it's what has always drawn clubs to him. I don't think we can really bury a 24 year old; he still has plenty of time to become a star. Unless that happens though, losing Arroyo and that club-friendly contract looks worse by the day.

Everybody walks away happy.

I'll be furious if the Bosox pull such shenanigans. Either pay the full $51M, ALL of it going to the Lions, or keep your dick in your pants.

If they're worried about the dollars, maybe Boston shouldn't have overbid everyone by $10M+.

I'll be furious if the Bosox pull such shenanigans.

I agree. They should not be allowed to pull off an end run here. That would be totally unfair. If you think about it, Boston has nothing to lose here. The deposit isn't even earnest money. It's meaningless unless they reach a deal.

When I said "eveyone walks away happy," I was referring to all of the parties involved in the Matsuzaka negotiations. Outsiders would definitely have the right to scream "foul."

I'll be furious if the Bosox pull such shenanigans.


They found a loop-hole.

I'd be delighted.

They found a loop-hole.

It's only a loop-hole if Selig lets Henry treat the league like his own personal train set.

God, what happened to the Red Sox squad that would let the Lowes, Martinezes, Garciaparas, Floyds, Damons go away and bring in Ortiz, Mueller, Millar, Bellhorn, Kapler, Roberts, JeGiambi and see who sticks? The Sox aren't exploiting market inefficiencies anymore. They're helping create them.

The Sox would have nothing to do with the Lions deciding to pay Matsuzaka to agree to a Sox offer. (I use "nothing" loosely here). The Lions have the most the lose here, so I'm pretty sure they wouldn't mind giving up a few million dollars so they don't lose out on the whole $51.5 million.

Actually, nobody has ever batted .300 while striking out in a third of their ABs. Of the .300 hitters, Howard in 2006 came the closest to striking out 1/3 of the time, with a K/AB of .31.

Of the 1/3 strikeout guys, Jim Thome in 2001 came the closest to .300 with a .291 average.

Curiously, Bonds had a season where he came close to achieving the "honor": .302 BA with a K/AB rate of .285. The year was 1970, though, and it was Bobby, not Barry.