Weekend BlogOctober 27, 2007
Weekend World Series Blog
By The Baseball Analysts Staff

Here's a pretty comrehensive summary of Terry Francona's dilemma by Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe. Because there is no Designated Hitter in Fall Classic contests being played in National League parks, Francona has to sit one of his regulars.

The debate in Boston has become binary; it's either Papi or Youk who will sit (and I guess Francona agrees). Two options that should be on the table but apparently were not have barely been discussed.

First, Youkilis could move over to third base and replace Mike Lowell. Sure, Lowell has a great glove and has had a fantastic season. He has even had a great post-season. But Kevin Youkilis is hitting .396/.491/.750 in the second season and while placing too much stock on a small sample would be short-sighted, so too is ignoring as hot a hand as Youk's.

Here's the option I would have liked to have seen considered. Why not displace the weakest link of this Sox attack, centerfield? Coco Crisp has been a disaster and Jacoby Ellsbury has offered little relief. Both are phenomenal defenders, however, and with Daisuke Matsuzaka hurling tonight (a slight fly-ball pitcher) in Coors's spacious outfield, Francona is opting for defense. A Manny/Drew/Youkils left-to-right outfield would be about as bad as it gets defensively but the offensive upgrade of a scorching hot Youkilis over a freezing cold banjo-hitting centerfield duo would probably be justified. And remember, Youkilis played just about all of September 2006 in left field for Boston and held up just fine.

I rank the who-to-sit options thusly:

1) Crisp/Ellsbury
2) Lowell
3) Youkilis
4) Ortiz

We'll see if there is any impact tonight.

- Patrick Sullivan, 10/27/2007, 11:26 AM EDT

  • Using sOPS+, which is defined here, the following table breaks down how well (or poorly) Boston and Colorado hitters do in all of the various pitch counts.

                    BOS     COL
    1st Pitch       111     130
    1-0 Count       106     109
    2-0 Count       106     110
    3-0 Count       145      66
    0-1 Count        94     104
    1-1 Count       132      90
    2-1 Count       108     146
    3-1 Count       105     106
    0-2 Count        93     129
    1-2 Count       124      90
    2-2 Count       100     100
    Full Count      112     119
    After 1-0       111     103
    After 2-0       111     105
    After 3-0       109      92
    After 0-1       114     109
    After 1-1       120     106
    After 2-1       118     120
    After 3-1       105     108
    After 0-2       112     114
    After 1-2       113     104
    After 2-2       109     112
    Three Balls     110     109
    Two Strikes     116     110

    As shown, the Red Sox are below average when it comes to hitting in 0-1 and 0-2 counts. They hit well on the first pitch and when ahead in the count. Colorado, which is a bit more of a free-swinging club, has had lots of success on the first pitch (.391/.401/.633 with 50 2B and 37 HR in 764 plate appearances).

    I don't know if Josh Fogg can throw first and second pitch strikes past Red Sox hitters. Diasuke Matsuzaka, on the other hand, might be a good fit if he can keep the Rockies guessing all night with his assortment of pitches. It says here that the matchup favors Boston with or without Youkilis in the lineup.

    - Rich Lederer, 10/27, 11:45 AM PT

  • As it turns out, Dice-K hasn't been effective when the batter has put the ball in the play on the first pitch. Opponents are hitting .350/.388/.675 with a 134 OPS+ in such situations. Fogg also hasn't had success when hitters have put the first pitch in play (146 OPS+). The Colorado righthander has gotten ripped the second time through the lineup (142 OPS+), which basically equates to pitch numbers 26-75 (OPS+ over 150).

    Unless the umpire has a big strike zone, I see the Red Sox knocking Fogg out of the game before the fifth inning is completed. Whether Matsuzaka can make it through five will depend on if he can keep his breaking stuff and pitch count down. Either way, look for both bullpens to get a lot of work tonight.

    - Rich Lederer, 10/27, 5:05 PM PT

  • Ladies and gentlemen, Rich Lederer!

    - Patrick Sullivan, 10/27, 10:34 PM EDT

  • Thanks, Sully.

    By the way, when it comes to watching baseball games on TV, I'm sure glad that I live on the west coast. It's absolutely ridiculous when a nine-inning game lasts 4 hours and 19 minutes and ends a few minutes before the clock strikes 1 a.m. on the east coast. Quoting my brother, "Didn't baseball games used to be shorter than football games?"

    - Rich Lederer, 10/27, 9:59 PM PT

  • Much was made of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia becoming the first pair of rookies to bat 1-2 in a World Series game and the only rookies to combine for seven hits in a Fall Classic contest. But I don't recall hearing or reading anything about the fact that these two youngsters were Pac-10 Players of the Year – Pedroia in 2003 and Ellsbury in 2005.

    Pedroia played college ball at Arizona State and was the Pac-10 conference's co-POY (along with Stanford's Ryan Garko, who was a catcher back then). The Boston second baseman was a shortstop with ASU and, in fact, was named National Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 by Collegiate Baseball.

    Ellsbury went to Oregon State and was the conference's co-POY (with Arizona's Trevor Crowe). An outstanding defensive center fielder in college and in the professional ranks, Ellsbury is fleet of foot and promises to be a .300 hitter with 30 to 40 stolen bases per year. Ellsbury and Pedroia are also known for their strike-zone judgment and makeup.

    Boston has another Pac-10 Player of the Year – Jed Lowrie, who won the award in 2004 – in its ranks. (Interestingly, Pedroia, who was named POY the previous year as a sophomore, finished second behind Lowrie in his junior season.) A second baseman at Stanford, Lowrie has played mostly at shortstop in the minors. He may not have the quickness and range to handle that position in the majors, but there is little doubt that the switch-hitter can produce offensively at the highest level. Lowrie had a combined line of .298/.393/.503 (with 68 XBH, 77 BB and 91 SO) at AA and AAA this season.

    Kudos to the Red Sox for drafting, signing, and developing these Pac-10 Players of the Year.

    - Rich Lederer, 10/28, 9:10 AM PT

  • Comments

    Does Lowell have the range to play short? If so, how about moving Lowell there, playing Youk at third and sitting Lugo, the real weak link in the lineup. Sort of like Davey Johnson's move of Kevin Mitchell to short in 1986.

    I understand the offensive gain of taking Crisp/Ellsbury out of the lineup and shifting the OF to Ramirez/Drew/Youkilis, but would you really want such an abysmal defensive trio patrolling the largest outfield in the major leagues? Coors Field is cavernous. I think the extra bases they'd give up would easily negate the offensive gain from adding in Youkilis. No WAY would I go for that.

    The most famous example of sacrificing defense for offense that I can remember was replacing Ray Oyler at shortstop with Mickey Stanley-the center fielder. And it seemed to work.

    Analogous now would be Lowell to short, Youkilis to third and Ortiz at first. The problem is that would probably weaken three positions defensively, although I am not sure that Lugo has been that terrific at shortstop, and I think Youkilis is a pretty good third baseman. And as Matsuzaka is a strikeout/fly ball pitcher, the harm might be limited. It would certainly seem more appealing than weakening the defense in the Coors' outfield where not only are you likely to get more opportunities but where mistakes are likely to concede more bases.

    I've seen this proposed arrangement somewhere before:

    Papi at 1B, Lowell at 2B, Pedroia at SS and Youk at 3B.

    This one seems to make sense, in that each of these players have experience at the position that they would be playing. Lowell has played some 2B, over the past few years (not much, but some). Pedroia spent about half of him minor league career at SS. Youk can obviously handle 3B (if not as well as Lowell), and Papi can stumble around 1B. The major downside I see with this arrangment is that even though all of these guys have experience at these positions, each one of them would be playing somewhere other than there primary position. That is obviously less than ideal. However, I do think it is a better setup than proposed Youk/Lowell at SS plans, or Youk to the OF (especially RF, since I don't think he has played there as a pro).

    In my mind, however, all of this is moot since the Sox are going to be a clearly superior team to the Rockies no matter what arrangement they decide to trot out there. That being the case, I think that taking out Youk and putting in Papi is the right move. If it gets to Game 5, then Youk goes back in and Papi hits the pine.

    I wouldn't do anything more than taking Youk out and playing Ortiz at first base. And I would only do that if I was totally confident that Papi could move laterally and play the position adequately.

    The proposed infield that Bryan mentioned is an interesting one, but it involves too many changes at one time. I don't think there is any reason to sacrifice outfield defense at Coors Field so I would not be in favor of sitting Crisp or Ellsbury.

    Part and parcel to this discussion involves Lowell and his status for next year. Do you pay up or let him walk, knowing that you could move Youk to third and either find a replacement at first base or go with Ortiz for a season (or two) while awaiting Lars Anderson to develop into a major leaguer?

    I don't understand how P.S. gets away with viewing Ellsbury as a "weak link" offensively. You say things about small samples sizes, and Ellsbury's has been just that...take only his playoff numbers (and he's only been playing sporadically) and you get NOTHING useful.

    Ellsbury is a very compitent hitter, as shown by his minor league and major league numbers, at worse. The fact that he is Crisp's equal defensively should have made Francona's CF decision an easy one, a long time ago, and there is NO reason that Ellsbury would be benched to accomodate Drew. Drew?!? Give me a break? If the offense were necessary, putting Youkilis in RF for Drew would make the most sense (Youkilis is a superior bat, and Drew's defense has been VERY mediocre this year...there would likely be little lost defensively).

    Also, talking about benching Ellsbury shows a complete lack of awareness of his contributions to the team this postseason. Pay more attention, please...

    Ha - Ellsbury will be great, and is a good player now. But you have to evaluate your resources real-time. Youk is so, so much better than Ellsbury - defense and offense factored. So yeah, I advocate Youk playing ahead of him.

    Sully, you missed the point...Ellsbury SHOULD play, AND so should Youkilis...BENCH DREW.

    My point was validated last night anyway. Ellsbury = offensive liability = World Series MVP? Never trust a seven AB sample size ever again, guys.

    As I said before...if any of you advocated for benching Ellsbury, you were improperly "evaluating your resources real-time". That's the bottom line.

    You guys are supposed to be analysts! Talking about (and incorporating it into your analyses and suggestions) which hitters are hot or cold, when you SHOULD know that being hot or cold has NO (that's zero folks) predictive value whatsoever, takes much of your credibility away, IMO.

    Even if you want to argue that there is SOME predictive value to very recent and small-sample performances (which there ISN'T, at least according to all available evidence and research - IOW, that argument would be vacuous), it has no business being a signinficant factor in discussing ANY optimal lineup or roster construction strategy. None. IOW, it can be used as a tie-breaker and for nothing else.

    As you guys know, the research has already been done, but I challenge ANYONE to go back in history and look at any players (a large group of course in order to get a large sample size) who have been hot or cold for any period of time using any citeria you want and then look at their performance subsequent to that, again, for any time period you want, and if you find a statistically significant difference between that subsequent performance and their overall performance in that year or the last 3 years, I will award a large sum of money!

    As I often say when someone makes a claim, "Put your money where your mouth is and we'll likely see how strongly you believe in your conviction!"

    Hot. Cold. Small sample sizes. Et al. The point that I believe we should all be able to agree on is that you should go with the players that give you the best shot at winning. Period.

    Well, of couse, that's the whole point. The players whp give you the best chance of winning MIGHT be the ones who are hot and might be the ones who are cold, and in fact, have NOTHING to do with who is hot or who is cold.

    As we all know, if the media didn't make crap up all the time or say things that have no basis in reality (are not supported by "scientific" evidence), they would have nothing to talk about.

    They get away with spouting so-called "expert analyis" which is not expert at all (just the opposite in most cases), because 99.9% of the listership and readership do not know the difference.

    I expect better from this site, regardless of the particular author. You wouldn't publish a piece from Kruk or Steve Phillips, would you?

    The Pac 10 connection just adds even more to the connections between the Indians and the Red Sox. The media kept talking about Francona, Crisp, Ramirez, Nixon, but didn't notice two pairs of co-PAC10 POYs. OK, Crowe isn't with the big club yet, but he is in the AFL, so he's not that far away.

    Speaking of the Francona connection, Tito's spike year was one of the more amazing ones I remember.
    for a career.