Change-UpAugust 13, 2008
So I Went to a Baseball Game Last Night
By Patrick Sullivan

I have heard a number of people make reference to this but it really is true. You never know what is going to happen in any given baseball game. On any night, if you decide to devote the time, you could witness history.

The baseball season is long; hell, a baseball game is long. It requires considerable attention span, sometimes more than even the most ardent die-hards can allot. I think it's funny when baseball writers and other mainstream baseball figures pull rank by claiming they "watch every inning" as if doing that is somehow a life-enhancer. Not only that, but they don't watch every inning. Most of them watch one team's games.

The most knowledgeable baseball people I know not working in front offices work hard in various fields, value family time, exercising, golf, reading books, etc. Using the DVR and getting after it with the remote and the MLB Extra Innings package a few nights a week while keeping up online does the trick for me. I don't know, but I am ok without clubhouse time and bad buffet food.

Anyway, I say all of this because I went to Fenway Park last night, just as I do 15-20 other times each season, and thought it was just going to be another August game against the Rangers. Well it wasn't; it was a reminder that when you do decide to sit down and devote yourself to an entire, singular baseball game, it can often be damn rewarding. I witnessed a game that featured a tie for the most runs scored in an American League baseball game. Ever. There's a lot to say, and this Boston Globe piece sums it all up pretty nicely, but I want to focus on three items.

1) Charlie Zink sucks. I don't blame the Red Sox for giving it a shot. He had a 2.89 ERA this year in Pawtucket and Tim Wakefield went down with an injury. It seemed sensible enough. But his knuckler barely knuckles, he throws too many non-knuckle balls and he doesn't seem to strike enough batters out to be effective. I wish the kid all the best, but I would prefer not to see him take to the Fenway hill again in 2008.

2) Marlon Byrd looks good. Weird words to type, I know, but it's true. Since last season, in 190 games and about 750 plate appearances, Byrd is hitting .304/.366/.466. He's 30 now and a below average center fielder but he is precisely the sort of filler savvy teams should be on the lookout for. He will be a free agent at the end of this year and even though the last two seasons represent outliers for Byrd, there is enough of a body of work to start to feel good about his chances of helping a ballclub in 2009 and beyond. The only red flag is that over the same period, he is hitting .264/.315/.402 away from Arlington.

3) With his second home run of the game (a frozen rope over the monster) to give the Red Sox a lead in the bottom of the eighth last night, Kevin Youkilis got Fenway feeling like loud, intense, playoff-push Fenway again. And really, it's time to start talking about Youk as an MVP candidate. I don't necessarily think he is the most deserving candidate, but you look up and down BP's VORP list and A-Rod isn't getting it, and nobody from the Rangers or Indians is either. That leaves Youk, who is now hitting .316/.384/.564 while mixing in some good defense and big moments as well. With Mike Lowell potentially heading to the DL, he will also get to display his defensive versatility, which should only help his case.

At first glance you might think Youkilis is a great candidate for a nice pre-arb free agent deal but I am not so sure. He is slugging 100 points higher than his career slugging percentage this season and at age 29, it's hard to imagine him getting much better. He has publicly expressed frustration in the past with how the Red Sox managed his service time clock early in his career and right now he looks like a man on a mission. He wants that big free agent deal. So if you're the Red Sox, you can;

- Extend him (say, four years $40 million), and run the risk that his incentive structure becomes out of whack.

- Let him play out these years, needing to grind for every penny. The risk here is that relations become strained between Youk and the club but beyond that, what's the downside for the Red Sox here? That they lose out on him to the highest bidder for his 32-37 seasons? Oh well, I am sure that's a fate they can live with.

If I am the Red Sox I'd keep that fire lit under his ass and make him go year-to-year until he becomes unrestricted. Then you make your call if you want to enter the bidding.


Top 10 in VORP...

1. Ian Kinsler TEX
2. Alex Rodriguez NYA
3. Grady Sizemore CLE
4. Milton Bradley TEX
5. Josh Hamilton TEX
6. Kevin Youkilis BOS
7. Aubrey Huff BAL (!!)
8. Nick Markakis BAL
9. Carlos Quentin CHA
10. Brian Roberts BAL

So, setting aside the question of who is truely most deserving, yeah, Youk has a good shot. He's on a contending team. He's "gritty."

I still don't understand how Aubrey Huff is in the top 10 in VORP. I feel like there must be a bug in BP's database or something. It's not just that he's Aubrey Huff - I just don't think his numbers are all that impressive. Quentin has something like 40 points more of OPS and has a lower VORP, for example. I dunno.