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Posts Tagged ‘Boston Red Sox’

With The Jays collapsing this year, and the dangling of Roy Halladay on the trade block, it appears that JP Ricciardi’s days in Toronto could be numbered.  Hailed as one of Billy Beane’s golden boys, expectations were high in Toronto when he was hired following the 2001 campaign.  Since then, the Jays have had only once finished above third place in the American League East, and most fans consider his tenure a failure.  I am one of the few who disagree, but unfortunately did not really have any numbers to back myself up. 

I decided to undertake a small project to put some numbers behind my claim. As I was working through the data, I became unsure that I was going to be able to find a solution.  However, the end product gave me the results I wanted.  Given the financial resources relative to their division, the Toronto Blue Jays under JP Ricciardi were outperformed in terms of winning percentage compared to their division only by Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics and depending on your point of view, Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins.  These are arguably the top two GM’s in baseball over this time frame, so I would say JP is in pretty good company.  Now to the data.

Ricciardi was hired following the 2001 season, so I plugged the records of every team in the American League from 2002-2008 into Excel.  I then tabulated each team’s winning percentage over this time period, as well as the winning percentage of the other team’s in the division.  For example, the “Division Winning Percentage” box for the Tampa Bay Rays would include the records of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, but NOT the Rays.  I then calculated how much each team had spent on payroll (information from Cot’s MLB Contracts), and figured out what percentage of the division’s total payroll was spent by each team.  The results for the three AL divisions are as follows:

 AL East

 AL Central

AL West

 *Because the AL West only has four teams, I added a hypothetical fifth team that has a payroll that is the average of the other four teams.  This helps make the Percentage of Payroll constant across all divisions.

The numbers are not perfect, and could be refined further, but I think the general point I am trying to make is apparent.  Given his financial resources, JP Ricciardi did very well with the Jays.  He achieved a winning percentage only .010 lower than the rest of the division, while playing in the toughest division in baseball with the two best teams in the league.  You might be saying, well that is not very good, he was below average.  However, if you take a closer look, he did this while spending only 14.39% of his division’s total payroll.  The only other teams to spend similar or less were Baltimore (.087 lower winning % than division), Tampa Bay (.107 lower), Kansas City (.095 lower) and Oakland (.039 higher).  Among these teams, only Oakland was better.  With regards to Minnesota, they did spend 3.5% more than Toronto, but I would argue the .088 boost in winning percentage relative to the division is greater than the financial surplus.   

The two big failures were Detroit and Seattle.  Detroit spent 24.10% of their division’s payroll to be .058 below the rest of their division, while Seattle spent 23.18% to be .053 worse. 

So there you have it.  In my opinion, the JP Ricciardi era in Toronto has not been a failure, and he has actually done very well.  Other than a brutal 2004 season, the Jays have remained extremely competitive with the Red Sox and the Yankees despite financial limitations.  A lot of this depends on how you label success.  Some would argue that Tampa Bay has done a better job because they won a division title and a pennant with even smaller resources than Toronto.  To that I would say, “oh really, how did you enjoy the six 90+ loss seasons prior to 2008?”  I do not think success can be attributed to one good year, so overall, I think the top three general managers in the American League from 2002-2008 were Billy Beane, Terry Ryan and JP Ricciardi.

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It was a busy day for GM’s yesterday, with several contenders adding key pieces to their post-season drive.  Let’s take a look at the moves and the effect I think they will have.

Boston Red Sox Acquire Victor Martinez

The Red Sox added a big bat in Martinez, while holding onto prized pitching prospect Clay Bucholz.  Instead, they sent reliever/spot starter Justin Masterson to the Indians along with minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price.  This is an excellent trade for the Red Sox, as none of the players they gave up are irreplaceable.  It also gives them incredible line-up flexibility.  Martinez can catch or play first base while Kevin Youkilis can play first or third.  This will allow the Red Sox to rest either Jason Varitek or Mike Lowell and his achy hip on any day. 

Red Sox Acquire Casey Kotchman

The Red Sox traded recently acquired Adam Laroche back to Atlanta, where he started his career, for first baseman Casey Kotchman.  I am not totally sure what the point of this trade was.  Kotchman will be a defensive substitution at best for the Red Sox, and has a lot less pop than Laroche.  For Atlanta, I would consider Kotchman a superior player, so I am not sure what their plans are either.   

Detroit Tigers Acquire Jarrod Washburn

With the White Sox hot on their heels, the Tigers were in need of a veteran presence to settle their rotation.  Washburn is a perfect fit, and is having a career year in 2009, with a 2.64 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He will combine with Verlander and Jackson to give the Tigers a strong trio of starting pitchers, but I do not think it will be enough to get them past the big dogs in the AL East in the post-season.

Chicago White Sox Acquire Jake Peavy

Finally, the Jake Peavy saga has ended in San Diego.  He agreed to waive his no-trade clause to head to Chicago, something which he refused to do earlier this year.  While the White Sox gave up a lot, including pitcher Clayton Richard and top prospect Aaron Poreda, it gives them the ace they need this year (if Peavy is health).    

Twins Acquire Orlando Cabrera

Despite a .500 record, the Twins fancied themselves a buyer at the deadline due to the fact that they are only three games out of a playoff spot.  They needed an upgrade at SS, and Cabrera’s .694 OPS provides a significant upgrade over the .639 that they have gotten from the position this year.  He is also a career 5.0 UZR/150 fielder at short, although he has slipped this year.  While the intention was good, it does not match what the two teams above them did, and the Twinkies are headed for a third place finish.    

Yankees Acquire Jerry Hairston Jr.

Hairston’s particular talent is not with the bat or his glove, but that he can play pretty much anywhere on the diamond.  This will be huge for the Yankees, who are an old team, and this will allow them to rest some regulars down the stretch.  Do not be surprised if you see Hairston come up with a big play late in the season or in the playoffs, just a funny feeling.

Marlins Acquire Nick Johnson    

I almost cannot believe it, but the Marlins added a piece to their team instead of selling for once.  Johnson is an on-base machine, and will give the Marlins greater flexibility in their infield.  However, they are already six games behind the Phillies, and it may be a case of too little, too late.

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I honestly tried to write a coherent, well-thought through piece about this, but I could not do it.  I just do not care if guys used steroids at a time when there was no way to punish them.  I have no idea how these writers for Sports Illustrated and ESPN keep churning out article after article about steroid use.  It may be because I am young and grew up watching the Juiced Era and do not know any better, but I thought it was a pretty accepted fact that Ortiz was on something during his tenure with the Red Sox, and that was just the way it was. 

28 years old DH’s do not randomly add 122 points to their OPS, 76 points to their ISO, and almost double their HR/FB rate over night.  All of these people who are now crying foul are hypocrites.  No one said anything in ’98 when Big Mac was hitting home runs left, right and center.  They said nothing about Ortiz in ’04 because he was so happy go lucky and part of a great story with the Red Sox.  Instead they chose to pick on Bonds, who has been driven completely out of baseball.  The only people who should be allowed to criticize these “cheaters” are guys who brought up the issue a long time ago.  Off the top of my head, I can think of Jose Canseco and Rick Helling.  Baseball needs to leave what happened in the past in the past.  If they are really serious about cleaning up the game, they should work on things they can actually control, like players using PED’s in the PRESENT.

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Here is the link to my article for Inside The Majors about the Lugo acquisition.  Very risky move by Mozeliak to risk alienating his manager and pitching coach.  I am not sure I like this.

http://www.insidethemajors.com/?p=2335

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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein once again showed why he is one of the best in the business, acquiring former 32 home run hitter Adam LaRoche for two mid-level prospects.  Going the other way are AA shortstop Argenis Diaz and A pitcher Hunter Strickland.

In LaRoche, the Red Sox get an average defensive first baseman who can give Mike Lowell some extra days off (Youkilis will move over to third when LaRoche plays), and replace David Ortiz at DH when necessary.  LaRoche’s best season came in 2006 with the Braves when he hit 32 home runs and had a .915 OPS.  He was traded to the Pirates for reliever Mike Gonzalez the following off-season, but failed to live up to his billing in Pittsburgh.  He is obviously excited to leave the sinking ship in Pittsburgh, saying “I’m grateful for the opportunity that a team like that wants me.”  Hopefully for the Red Sox their winning atmosphere will help get him back on track.

Considering what they once gave up to acquire LaRoche, the Pirates are getting very little in return, which is par for the course for them.  Diaz is a 22 year old AA shortstop with a paltry .619 OPS and brutal .947 fielding percentage.  Strickland has improved steadily since turning professional two years ago, and owns a 5-4 record and 3.35 ERA in A ball.  He exhibits good control with a 1.4 BB/9, which is important considering his fastball sits in the 89-91 MPH range.  It is unlikely much will ever come of these two players, making this a great trade for the Red Sox and spelling more years of misery for the Pirates.

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When you have one less error than RBI, you know you are having a bad year, and probably feel pretty bad.  When you are the team paying this player $9 million dollars a season, you probably feel even worse.  This is the case with Julio Lugo, who the Red Sox finally cut ties with today.

With the emergence of Nick Green and the promotion of Clay Buchholz, Lugo found himself the odd man out on Boston’s 25 man roster.  The scariest part is that this was his best season offensively for the Red Sox, with his .719 OPS trumping his .685 and .643 from the previous two seasons.  However, the area he was really dragging the Red Sox down was defence.  With a renewed emphasis on defence in MLB, Lugo’s -43.2 UZR/150 was not going to cut it.  Nick Green, on the other hand, carried a .721 OPS this season and a much better 12.2 UZR/150.

Let’s take a look at what $36 million bought the Red Sox:

  • 10 home runs
  • 114 runs
  • 46 RBI
  • 48 stolen bases 10 caught stealing
  • -6.1 UZR
  • Incalculable number of jock readjustments

Lugo finds himself on the list of players paid to just go away with the likes of BJ Ryan, Andruw Jones and Russ Ortiz.  The Red Sox are going to end up eating about $13 million dollars on this decision.  The worst part is that since he was so bad that the decision actually makes sense.  The Red Sox get a lot of credit for shrewd moves by their front office, so it is nice to see them make a big mistake.

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About a month ago the Boston Red Sox decided to move Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lead-off spot.  Many people were taken aback, fantasy managers in particular, feeling that Ellsbury was a natural at this spot.  He was hitting around .300 and had over twenty stolen bases.  However, when you examine the numbers a bit deeper, you see that it makes perfect sense.  It is also a big reason why the Red Sox are 15-7 thus far in June.

While Ellsbury is second on the team in batting average and first in steals, sabremetrics has changed what constitutes an ideal lead-off hitter, and what goes into the creation of an ideal batting order.  In Baseball Between The Numbers, James Click (now with the Rays), dedicates a chapter to line-up construction, specifically protection and optimal batting order.  It is optimal batting order that I would like to focus on.  Using their Baseball Lineup Order Optimization Program, they discovered that the batting order that will deliver the most runs is one constructed in descending OBP.

This brings us back to the Red Sox.  Ellsbury’s .345 OBP ranks him only fifth on the team, so according to this theory, he is far from the best player to have batting lead-off.  J.D. Drew, the man that replaced him, ranks third with an OBP of .380.  Most people probably think that this is an odd decision as Drew’s .255 average and two stolen bases do not seem like prototypical lead-off material.  However, his high number of walks make him well-suited to the position.

Yankees Red Sox Baseball

Sorry Jacoby, that infamous stolen base is not going to help you hit lead-off for the Red Sox

However, there is still the issue of speed and stolen bases.  The fact is, teams are beginning to value speed less for stolen bases, and more for things like defence, infield singles, and turning singles into doubles, all of which increase expected runs more than a stolen base attempt.  While the Red Sox are still giving Ellsbury a lot of freedom on the base paths, a few stolen bases are not going to get him back into that lead-off spot.

Statistically speaking, this slight line-up change will probably only gain the Red Sox one victory over the course of the year.  But how many times has your favourite team missed a division title or wild-card spot by one game?  This little advantage is just one of the things that make the Red Sox the smartest team in baseball.

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