Change-UpAugust 31, 2010
Everybody Try & Relax
By Patrick Sullivan

This article is cross-posted at Red Sox Beacon, a site I started with Baseball Prospectus writer Marc Normandin. We're not sure where it will go but for now it's just a repository for a handful of us to jot down our thoughts on the Boston Red Sox. I will still be contributing here at least every Wednesday, and occasionally on weekends as well.


Fresh off a series loss in St. Pete and with their playoff chances inching from slim towards none, there is a new narrative taking hold here in Boston . It's difficult to follow but the best I can boil it down to is "The Red Sox knew this was a ‘bridge year’ all along and are not going for it.” Those who hold this belief - ostensibly at least - point to the lack of deal-making at the deadline and to Theo Epstein's terribly misunderstood "bridge year" remark before the beginning of the year. That the team continues to rely on the likes of Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald to claw back into the most competitive division in baseball means the front office is content to let the season slip away, or so it goes. Some examples:

Tony Massarotti, August 30th

At any point, to blame it all on the injuries is rather elementary and downright blind.
Fenway Park has gone from among the most fashionable places to be seen to just another ballpark, and the timing could not be worse for a Red Sox administration that might have been planning for another lean year.

Seriously, might not that be, above all else, the reason the Sox put in a claim for Johnny Damon? The Sox lack star power. The Sox lack appeal.

Joe Haggerty’s Twitter feed, August 28th

Hawpe is just an example. The main point is that the #redsox lack of movement toward any players = not going for it

Chris Gasper, who basically took to to throw a temper tantrum yesterday

Last night's defeat at Tropicana Field and the series weren't just lost over the weekend. They were lost in the last month, when fatal flaws went unfixed by the front office. While teams like the San Diego Padres (Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada) and Minnesota Twins (Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes) have addressed needs, the Sox have preferred to stand pat and apply internal patches. The Padres and Twins look playoff-bound, the Sox do not.
Actions speak louder than words. Francona's actions tell the tale of a team that waited for reinforcements from its front office that never came.

Dan Shaughnessy in today’s Boston Globe

It’s not like they didn’t warn us. Remember Theo’s comments in December about the “bridge period’’? He said that’s not what he really meant, but it was a moment of truth. The reality is the Sox figured they were in for a soft season.

A number of reactions come to mind as I read mainstream writing along these lines, but the first is to spell out exactly what the Red Sox have been through this year. Let's start with the obvious. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, conservatively, are two of the 20 best position players in baseball. They’re probably two of the 15 best and possibly both top-10. Combined, they’ve missed 85 games in 2010. Imagine if the Brewers were without Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, the Rays without Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, or the Yankees without Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. You could stop right there and forgive the Red Sox for merely being a .565 team playing in baseball’s (sports’?) toughest division.

Of course the story of Boston’s misfortune runs much deeper. Jacoby Ellsbury, an established 3-win player entering his 26-year old season, has played in just 18 games. Victor Martinez, one of the best catchers in all of baseball, has missed 33 games. Since health is a skill, it’s hard to get too upset about Mike Cameron’s plight in 2010, but nonetheless the fringe Hall of Fame candidate who was coming off consecutive 4+ win seasons according to Fangraphs, has not been healthy all year long. At 37, some durability issues could be expected, but Cameron has managed just 180 largely ineffective plate appearances.

On the performance side, key Sox players have struggled. Josh Beckett has been terrible in his limited action this year. John Lackey has not pitched nearly as well as he is capable. J.D. Drew has managed a couple of hot streaks but he has not been able to piece together a typical Drew offensive season despite remaining healthy as his teammates fall all around him.

The Red Sox have endured as much adversity as any team in baseball. Just a few of the items mentioned above breaking their way and Boston’s in the thick of this race. This was a bridge year in the sense that Boston needed to ink some veterans to short contracts in order to remain a top-flight team while they waited for their youngsters to develop. Marco Scutaro, Cameron and Beltre all fall into this camp, but how do any of those signings indicate that Boston's front office thought they would have a soft year? They would probably be baseball’s best team with any luck at all in 2010. I look at the 2003, 2004 and 2007 clubs and I don't know - I think this may have been the very best Red Sox roster of the Theo Epstein era. This team was designed to compete and all year long, it has.

But that first point – that the Red Sox intended to try to win the World Series all along - is only partially responsive to the complaints circling the Boston airwaves and filling the broadsheets. The notion that they’re not “going for it” by failing to make trades is preposterous on its face. Whom would you like to have seen the Red Sox acquire?

If only the Red Sox had managed to get Brad Hawpe, then at least they’d be making a go of it. Had the Red Sox traded for bats like Ludwick or Tejada, then at least we’d know they were serious. Their bullpen has been so bad. How could they NOT add Matt Capps or Brian Fuentes. And for goodness sake, things have become so dour down in the baseball ops offices, the marketing folks are now calling the shots. How else to explain the attempt to acquire Johnny Damon?

It’s hard for me to unravel the logic of these complaints but for our purposes, let’s consider the Los Angeles Dodgers. On July 31st, they sat 5.5 games out of a playoff spot, just like the Red Sox. Ned Colletti was aggressive, acquiring Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and Octavio Dotel at the deadline for a number of promising pieces in the Dodgers farm system and a couple of established Big Leaguers. For the short-term, the moves have worked out really nicely. Theriot has managed a 109 OPS+ as a Dodger, and Lilly is 5-1 since arriving on the west coast. Dotel has been spotty at times, but he’s only tossed 11 innings.

So the Dodgers made moves and were rewarded with very good productivity from their new acquisitions. Meanwhile, the Red Sox did virtually nothing at the deadline. After looking at potential moves – say Scott Downs for Casey Kelly as an example – the Red Sox decided that the market just wasn’t shaping up the way it would need to in order to compel them to deal. A month later, LA’s playoff odds have dwindled to 4% while the Red Sox chances are also slim, but still two times that of the Dodgers. Making trades for the short-term guarantees nothing.

But even when the Red Sox gave it an honest shot with the Johnny Damon waiver claim, they were not insulated from this line of attack. Damon chose not to join the club, but you can’t say the Red Sox have not been active. But folks like Mazz claim that the Damon attempt was driven by the business side of things, since, you know, the Red Sox aren't really going for it. I’m still waiting for any actual reporting on the subject. It’s speculation, and flies in the face of how the Red Sox have operated under John Henry's ownership group. Baseball Ops has total autonomy once made aware of their budget.

Boston is on pace to win 92 games in 2010. This despite as bad a non-New York Mets injury season as I can recall. Oh, those poor 2009 New York Mets. After winning 89 games in 2008, they had high hopes last year. Like the Red Sox, they got crushed by the injury bug, losing Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana among others. Unlike the Red Sox, they won 70 games.

I understand that you have to fill space in newspapers but the simple explanation for the 2010 Boston Red Sox is “shit happens.” It’s unsatisfying, but it’s the truth. They had a plan, assembled a great roster and on any number of fronts they’ve run into just awful luck. 92 wins might cut it in any other division in baseball, but in the AL East it means you might not qualify for the playoffs. And as a result, while Kevin Youkilis looks on in a splint and Dustin Pedroia gets set for surgery, an entitled, spoiled, silly media gets to spend the final month of the season grasping at straws assigning ex post facto blame as to why the Red Sox didn’t win a handful more games.


Well said, sir. And you didn't even mention that the fourth outfielder acquired for the inevitable days off needed by Cameron was also DLed by Beltre's knee. Frankly, I think this year has been a great performance by Theo and Francona.

Yeah, shit happens, but Lackey was overpaid, Scutaro just isn't that good, and Cameron is old. Other teams are having bad years from their pitchers and injuries to major players (Burnett, ARod, Pettitte, Posada), and they've managed to excel despite the adversity. Smart trades and signings (Thames, Kerry Wood) and useful minor leaguers (Ivan Nova, various and sundry OF and IF fill ins) have helped keep the Yankees going.

Funny, I remember in 2007 and 2008 that the story among Yankees fans critical of that organization's front office was that sure, the team had alot of injuries/ bad seasons from normally good players, but Boston had to deal with adversity too.

Can you guys excerpt that portion of the piece where I write that the Yankees have faced no adversity at all?

Great piece.

You didn't specifically mention the Yankees, but this piece comes off as a sob piece written by a Red Sox fan. Everyone gets injuries. Everyone makes bad signings. It happens to every year to every team.

Everyone gets injuries. Everyone makes bad signings. It happens to every year to every team.

What specific point of mine are you responding to? Are you asserting that the Red Sox have not had worse luck than other teams? Degree matters here, so let me know which other teams had it as bad as the Red Sox did this season. Then we can start a real discussion.

As it stands, you're entirely unresponsive to anything I've said in the post.

These are all fair points, and Mazz's column was lazy and lame (= not running out a grounder late in the season). Keeping all our prospects is a wise move. But Kerry Woods is throwing zeros for the Yankees and not the Sox only because the Yankees were willing to take on more salary than the Sox. That's penny-wise and pound-foolish
from a Sox, looking forward to 2011

@sabernar, It's so odd to call this a "sob piece" when Sully's entire point, essentially, is that Sox journalists and fans SHOULDN'T be sobbing. We had a great roster that was devastated by injuries, but it was still a very exciting season (and a very good team!) and we still have good prospects in the minors. No need for anyone to cry or point fingers, or look for hilariously overdramatic signs of a "bridge year" in the fact that we didn't get Brad Hawpe (Brad Hawpe!). That's all Sully's saying, I think, and it's pretty darn reasonable.

I don't have Insider, but apparently, over at, Dan Szymborski argues that all the injuries have cost the Sox a total of 4 games. Which would put them right back in the hunt, but not in the lead.

However, just because they have suffered some bad luck doesn't mean that they had a "great roster." They've also been inordinately LUCKY in some respects -- and if we're not going to ding them when they unpredictably fall short, neither should we credit them when players unpredictably exceed expectations. Of course, it's not possible for us to know what the front office was thinking, but here are a few lucky performances, neessary for the Sox being as successful as they are, but which I doubt the front office predicted:

- Adrian Beltre's the big one. His season has been incredible -- I don't think ANYONE had pegged him for this kind of prudction. According to BP, last years his WARP for the SEASON was 2.0, and he hadn't been above 3.7 since 2004. This year, SO FAR, it's 7.5. Regress him to the Adrian Beltre of last year, or even bring his WARP for the season so far up to 4.0 (which would have by itself been MUCH better than Beltre had performed in any season since 2004), and the Sox are dead in the water and WAY out of contention.

- David Ortiz has significantly exceeeded his projections. The Sox knew he was a risk, one that might pay off but also might very well not. They got lucky, as Ortiz is having a MUCH better season than he did last year. Again looking at bp, his WARP last year was .6, and this year, it's been 3.2 (In fact, his projected VORP for the season was 2.8; his actually VORP has been 35.9.) I'm not saying these bp stats are Gospel or that the Sox management may not have known something they didn't; I AM saying that I doubt that predicted Ortiz would have been THIS good.

- Papelbon has also been the beneficiary of good luck. He appeared to be regressing last season, and the need to replace him seemed predictabvle. This season, his continuing regression has been somewhat masked by what appears to be good luck: according to baseballprospectus, his ERA is about .68 LOWER than his SIERA. Figure the defense accounts for part of that, but even so, if you add .3-.4 runs to Pap's ERA in those high leverage situations, that could easily mean an extra loss or two.

Taken together, those three performances alone might account for as many as 10 wins that came, as it were, from nowhere: blessings that fell into the Sox' lap, not through careful planning, but just through dumb luck.

Look: Every front office ought to face up to the fact that there's a lot that's out of their control, and that their success in any season depends to a great extent on luck. The only thing they can do is use the resources available to give themselves the best chance to win that they can.

As with most baseball seasons, the Sox this year have experienced a combination of good and bad luck. I think you're overstating, though, the extent to which this is just about "s#!t happens:" the Sox roster had real, recognizable flaws. Maybe there no great solutions were available. Maybe the Sox decided that, in fact, this was something of a "bridge year," and that it was better to try to build from their strong farm system than to go out and trade for or sign veterans who might play better this season but become albatrosses later in their contracts. If that's what they decided, I think they were right to do so.

But what you are saying - that the Sox put together a "great" roster, and that their plan was derailed by injuries - just seems wrong to me. They were hurt by bad luck with injuries, but also helped by some unpredictably good luck with player performances. This roster was good. It was not "great."

(And who knows? Maybe the Sox will STILL find some way to make the playoffs and slip into the World Series. But even if they do, that won't refute what I've made.)

Every team has injuries, @sabarnar, but not as many injuries as the Red Sox had.

Ed - Beltre has definitely outperformed, but I wouldn't call Ortiz or Papelbon "lucky" as it relates to expected performance and roster construction.

I have tried to make 3 points. 1) That, all along, the Red Sox intended to compete for a World Series championship. 2) That not trading players at the deadline did not amount to throwing in the towel. 3) That this was a roster constructed well enough to win a WS.

Interestingly, Jim brings up Kerry Wood. I can't blame Theo for being gun-shy on a pricey reliever after the Eric Gagne debacle, but nonetheless I do believe that the bullpen is one area where Boston's FO fell down a bit. I expressed that concern before the season.

Ed - I don't disagree that those three players have (in Beltre's case significantly) exceeded expected performance, but doesn't that happen to most good teams? Did the Yankees think Cano would turn into this kind of player? I'm guessing not. I'm pretty sure they didn't have any inside information on Nick Swisher either. You could do this same thing with the Rays (Benoit?) too.

Agree on Beltre - he's definitely overperformed a bit (though, don't forget he is going from Seattle to Fenway, so there's a BIG park factor boost there... in other words, some of this has to have been expected).

Lackey has been abominable, out of nowhere. I think his performance has deviated from his projection more than anyone else. The guy's been ridiculously consistent as an Angel, and he gets to Boston and forgets how to strike people out. I didn't think this was a bad contract at the time, because he was so consistent at putting up mid-to-high 3 ERAs, but wow.

If the injury estimate is 4 wins, I'll believe that. The Yankees are definitely 2.5 games better than the Red Sox; I don't think the Rays are, but they've outperformed their projections a bit so good for them. If this season played out a million times, yeah the Red Sox aren't going to beat the Yankees too many times, but I think they'll consistently do better than the Rays in the standings. I don't blame the front office for not making the playoffs this year... it's what, the second time in 8 years they haven't made it?

"Every team has injuries, @sabarnar, but not as many injuries as the Red Sox had."

The Yankees would like to differ. ARod, Pettitte, Posada, Granderson... The exact number of missed days might not be the same, but I'll wager that it's relatively close.

The Yanks made smart moves to pick up role players - Kearns, Berkman, Wood - what did the Sox do? Sure they added a little salary, but it was miniscule. Kearns' *annual* salary was under $1M. The Sox have managed to stay close into September; it seems that if they did some smart dealing in July and August, they might be several games closer and in the pennant race.

Youkilis, Pedroia, Beckett, Dice-K, Lowell, Hermida, V-Mart, Ellsbury, Cameron, Varitek, and Tazawa as depth. And Youkilis and Pedroia are more valuable than any of the players the Yankees lost. Probably not that close...

I agree that the Sox have hung in there and did what they could without trading their top talent. My biggest issue with the article is the ill-conceived notion that Cameron is a "fringe" Hall of Famer. Come on, he's a nice defensive player who can't hit so stop with the "spin" of dubious metrics. Hall of Famers lead teams-stat or leadership, Cameron NEVER lead ANY team.

I do agree the Boston writers ARE always too caustic in their writing without much deep thought in showing analytics to their opinions.

There are much worse players than Mike Cameron in the HOF. He's a top-tier defensive center fielder who stole bases efficiently and mixed in a 113 career wRC+.

I doubt he's done, too. I probably would not vote for him, but fer crissakes he'll end up with a better career than Jim Rice.

Good Article, but I have to agree with DonnieDBaseaball regarding Mike Cameron and the HOF. Who exactly is going to vote for him ? I cant see him even getting past a first year of required votes to stay on a ballot.

The Cameron comment is laughable. Clearly correct re: the Red Sox. Look at the Phils this year - they've had similar injury issues (Rollins - as of today, played 74 games, Utley - 87 games, Polanco - 106, Howard - 115), but are fortunately not in the AL East.

Ed (a different Ed):

Your post is a perfect example of overrelying on metrics and isn't played on paper and players don't always do what an algorithm expects. Careers are fluid, and some players take major turns, sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected.

This is most true about Beltre. Quite frankly, I DO think the Red Sox "expected" this (no 100% guarantee, but they probably viewed this as more likely than a mediocre season). Take a player, put him in a MUCH better ballpark, place him in a MUCH better lineup (these two factors are still only barely properly understood, and the few adjustments we can make for them are applied as if every player is equal, which is definitively untrue), give him the motivation provided by a good team...and he's going to exceed whatever is projected of him. Keep in mind that Beltre demonstrated the ability to make a contract run before, and was robbed by injuries of his contract run opportunity last year. Perhaps his failure to do what he aimed for last year gave him even greater urgency?

Ditto David Ortiz. Any reasonable projection will take his numbers from last year, and put in some kind of age regression...and that was destined to fail. Projections don't take into account tangible qualitative analysis, such as how Ortiz had to change his style of hitting last year to make up for lost bat speed. He figured it out in the middle of the year last year, and entering this season he felt healthy enough to try his old style of hitting again. It failed, he went back to his 2009 hitting style, and he's been strong ever since. Even when he was a complete flop in April, I continued to expect him to bounce back, and surprise!, he did.

Ditto ditto Papelbon. Seriously, you're going to apply a typical expected ERA metric to Papelbon? Where does this metric take into account that Papelbon, a closer with amazing stuff, tends to get into trouble due to a lack of command, and then VISIBLY increases his focus and command as he gets into bigger trouble. Don't ask me why he opens most outings these days with command troubles, but he's certainly not a pitcher who can be evaluated like the "average" pitcher.

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