Archive for April, 2009

How Van Every ended up with the Red Sox

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The irony was welcome, but the lack of sports bars wasn’t.

Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen joined special assistant to the general manager David Howard in driving the streets of Kinston, N.C., Wednesday night searching high and low for a place that might have the Sox game against Cleveland on one of its television sets. One of the players Hazen had watched play in Kinston while serving as a member of the Indians’ front office, Jonathan Van Every, was starting in right field for Boston, adding a bit of motivation in terms of tracking the big league team’s goings-ons.

After failing to find a North Carolina hot spot, Hazen adjourned back to his hotel to try and track the game via the internet. Thanks to a spotty connection, that wasn’t working either. So, as it turned out, the way Hazen learned about the first career homer — a game-winner, no less — of a player whose career he had followed since Single-A Lake City in 2003 was via text messages from Howard.

No matter. It wasn’t how the message was delivered, but that it was just finally delivered.

“Everybody is so happy for this kid,” Hazen said. “He doesn’t say a word and just goes out and plays hard every day. You talk to (Pawtucket manager) Ron Johnson about him and he talks as highly of this guy as any guy I’ve talked to with him about in the last four years. He’s been saying for the last two years that this guy can really play. Who knows where this is going to take him, but it’s good for the kid.”

When Van Every hit the 10th-inning home run off his former minor-league roommate, Jensen Lewis, it sent folks scrambling to find out more about who exactly this 29-year-old was. The logical connection to the Red Sox staff was pitching coach John Farrell, who was Cleveland’s farm director ever since the outfielder began his pro career in 2001. And then there was the relationship Van Every had with Hazen, who had come to the Red Sox from Cleveland in ’06.

But the Sox farm director acknowledged the familiarity he and Farrell had with Van Every, it was actually pro scouting, led by Allard Baird and Jared Porter, coupled with Red Sox’ general manager Theo Epstein‘s ability to close the deal with the then-minor league free agent, that brought the former 29th-round pick to the Boston organization.

“We knew of him, don’t get me wrong. But Allard and the pro scouts were pounding the table pretty strong for this guy,” said Hazen, who remembers Van Every being close to signing with another team before the Red Sox came in with an opportunity to be a member of the organization’s 40-man roster. “They pushed really hard to sign him and Theo basically did the deal.”

The reason for the optimism surrounding Van Every was obvious. He was a power-hitting outfielder (27 home runs at Double-A Akron in ’05) who also had a keen batting eye. And it was that skill set that was put on display last season with Triple-A Pawtucket where Van Every 26 homers to go with 56 walks.

Besides consistency, the problem for Van Every in his time in the Cleveland organization was that he was in a minor-league system that also boasted well-respected outfielders Franklin Gutierrez, Trevor Crowe, Jason Cooper and Brad Snyder.

“The report that came back said, ‘Look at this guy. He’s an above-average athlete, a plus-defending outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and has ridiculous power. If the power ever translates on a consistent basis look what you’ve got,” said Hazen. “But it was definitely the pro scouts pounding the table for this guy. Look at this guy’s statistical track. He has power and he has walks. He does two things we like a lot. There were a lot of different things that lit up about this guy that made the scouts so excited about him.”

Van Every has seemingly taken his game to yet another level since coming to the Sox organization, displaying a much healthier wave of consistency. But much of the improvement, said Hazen, has more to do with the player simply “working his (butt) off” rather than any major adjustments.

“What you see now when you watch him run around — you see the body, the swing — it’s very close to the same,” said Hazen of his first encounter with Van Every in ’03. “He was hitting balls off the top of the scoreboard at Lake City way back then. That power has been there as long as I’ve seen him play. I just think he’s gotten a lot more consistent with his approach. That has allowed that power and athleticism to translate on the field.”

Red Sox vs. Rays Match-Ups, 4/30

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The last two ALCS MVPs take the mound tonight in the Tropicana Dome, where the Rays and Red Sox will renew the southern leg of their budding rivalry in the American League East. In terms of pure stuff, Josh Beckett (the 2007 ALCS MVP) and Matt Garza (who claimed the honor in 2008) are as impressive as any pitchers in the American League East, a notion that is reflected to a large degree by the types of numbers that they have against their opponents tonight.

RAYS VS. JOSH BECKETT

Josh Beckett (2-1, 6.00 in 2009), of course, was a force in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians, a form that he appeared ready to resume when he dominated the Rays (7 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 10 strikeouts) in the season opener. Yet while many concluded that Beckett was ready to use that Opening Day outing as a point of departure for a return to his 2007 levels of dominance, to date, that form has not held. In three subsequent starts, he’s allowed 15 earned runs in 17 innings, allowing 24 hits and an uncharacteristic 10 walks in that time.

Though a couple of Rays – most notably Akinori Iwamura – have solid numbers against Beckett, several key members of their lineup (Pat Burrell, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena) have abysmal regular-season histories against him:

Pat Burrell (43 career plate appearances): .158 average / .256 OBP / .158 slugging / .414 OPS
Akinori Iwamura (27): .333 / .407 / .500 / .907
Carl Crawford (26): .280 / .269 / .320 / .589
Dioner Navarro (23): .136 / .174 / .136 / .310
Carlos Pena (22): .150 / .227 / .350 / .577
Jason Bartlett (20): .316 / .350 / .421 / .771
Gabe Gross (17): .067 / .176 / .267 / .443
Evan Longoria (15): .267 / .267 / .533 / .800
B.J. Upton (12): .250 / .250 / .333 / .583
Willie Aybar (3): 2-for-3, triple

RED SOX VS. MATT GARZA

Like Beckett, Matt Garza (1-2, 4.97) looked ready to build upon the momentum of his playoff excellence to forge a monster season when he shut down the Sox (7 innings, 1 run) in his first start of the season, then did the same (7 innings, 2 runs) against the Yankees in his second outing. But he’s gotten hit hard in his last two outings, allowing 11 runs in 11.1 innings against the White Sox and A’s.

Of course, a return to A.L. East competition offers Garza something of a comfort zone (surprisingly enough). Against Tampa’s four A.L. East foes, he has a career 13-6 record and 3.01 ERA, including a 4-1 record and 3.40 regular-season mark against the Sox. Most of the right-handed members of the Sox lineup have fared poorly against Garza, while left-handers Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz (who has homered twice against Garza) have enjoyed varying degrees of success against the Rays pitcher:

Dustin Pedroia (19 career plate appearances):. .167 average / .211 OBP / .222 slugging / .433 OPS
Jacoby Ellsbury (18): .438 / .500 / .438 / .938
Kevin Youkilis (17): .214 / .353 / .286 / .639
Mike Lowell (15): .133 / .133 / .333 / .466
David Ortiz (14): .167 / .286 / .667 / .953
J.D. Drew (11): .250 / .364 / .750 / 1.114
Jason Varitek (8): .143 / .250 / .143 / .393
Julio Lugo (6): .200 / .333 / .200 / .533
Jason Bay (3): .333 / .333 / 1.000 / 1.333

Smoltz slowed by a week

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Right-handed pitcher John Smoltz has had his rehab course backed off by a week, Red Sox manager Terry Francona told Joe Castiglione on the Red Sox Pre-Game Radio Show. Smoltz had been scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday as part of his progression to pitching in rehab games. However, the Sox have decided to delay that process slightly to allow the pitcher to continue to build arm strength.

“We’ve actually been going back and forth with Smoltzie. We’ve actually slowed it down about a week,” Francona said. “I don’t want to say it was built in, but I don’t think this was unrealistic to think that was going to happen.”

Smoltz’ status, of course, has become all the more intriguing given that starter Brad Penny has had a couple of poor starts…

Francona also said that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 45-pitch side session prior to Wednesday’s game, and is scheduled to throw another on Saturday. … Mark Kotsay continues to work out at Fenway Park, and Francona expects that he might commence a rehab assignment on Friday.

To listen to the complete interview, click here.

Object Lesson No. 1,289 in the Dangers of Free Agency

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

There’s little secret that most teams would, all things being equal, prefer to avoid the free-agent market. Indians G.M. Mark Shapiro once articulated a concise synopsis of his feelings on the process:

“It’s inefficient and we want to stay out of it whenever possible,” said Shapiro.

That’s not always possible, or even advisable. But on a day when both J.D. Drew (quad) and Julio Lugo (knee) — the duo that signed $106 million worth of free-agent contracts with the Sox prior to the 2007 season — are once again out of the lineup, it seems a fair moment to take stock of the impact of free agency on the current Sox club.

The Boston roster actually features surprisingly few players who were acquired through free agency. Just seven players signed with the Sox after playing in the majors with another club, and only Drew and Lugo signed multi-year deals to come to Boston. Here is a breakdown of how the Sox acquired the current members of their roster (Major League Baseball free agents in bold):

—————

STARTERS

Josh Beckett – Trade (2005)
Jon Lester – Drafted (2nd round, 2002)
Justin Masterson – Drafted (2nd round, 2006)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (D.L.) – Rights purchased through posting process from Japanese club (2006)
Brad Penny – Free-agent (2008-09)
Tim Wakefield – Free agent (1995)

RELIEVERS

Manny Delcarmen – Draft (2000, 2nd round)
Hunter Jones – Undrafted free agent (2005)
Javier Lopez – Trade (2006)
Hideki Okajima – Japanese free agent (2006)
Jonathan Papelbon – Draft (2003, 4th round)
Ramon Ramirez – Trade (2008)
Takashi Saito – Free agent (2008-09)

CATCHERS

George Kottaras – Trade (2006)
Jason Varitek – Trade (1997)

INFIELD

Jeff Bailey – Minor-league free agent (2003)
Nick Green – Minor-league free agent (2008)
Mike Lowell – Trade (2005)
Jed Lowrie – Draft (2005, 1st round)
Julio Lugo – Free agent (2006-07)
Dustin Pedroia – Draft (2004, 2nd round)
Kevin Youkilis – Draft (2001, 8th round)

OUTFIELD

Rocco Baldelli (D.L.) – Free agent (2008-09)
Jason Bay – Trade (2008)
J.D. Drew – Free agent (2006-07)
Jacoby Ellsbury – Draft (2005, 1st round)
Jonathan Van Every – Minor-league free agent (2007-08)

DESIGNATED HITTER

David Ortiz – Free agent (2002-03)

—————–

The two clear stars in terms of return on the dollar are David Ortiz, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract to come to Boston after the Twins released him following the 2002 season, and Tim Wakefield, who signed for $175,000 after the Pirates released him in 1995.

Lugo and Drew, meanwhile, have been costly ventures, and it would be difficult to suggest that either has performed to the expected value level implied by his contract.

Before signing with the Sox, Lugo had averaged 131 games a year, hitting .277 with a .340 OBP, .402 slugging and .742 OPS while hitting an average of nine homers a year and swiping 19 bases. With Boston, he has averaged 114 games a year, hitting .247 / .314 / .343 / .657 with four homers and 22 steals a year. He has been neither as healthy or offensively productive with the Sox as he was prior to joining them.

Drew, meanwhile, averaged 106 games a year while hitting .286 / .393 / .512 / .904 prior to signing with the Sox. As a member of the Red Sox (presuming that he does not play tonight), he is averaging 127 games a year while hitting .273 / .387 / .469 / .856. That represents solid production (when healthy), but it is likely short of the $14 million a year standard for which he is getting paid.

If one is to draw conclusions from the current roster, it would appear that the Sox are more likely to be rewarded for their continued efforts to move away from the top-end free agency market than they would be for major splashes with top-of-the-market free agents who would require multi-year deals.

Red Sox vs. Indians Match-Ups, 4/29

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Jon Lester and Fausto Carmona are both 25, both signed to long-term deals, both feature some of the best pure stuff of any starters in the American League, and both are off to slow starts in 2009.

Carmona has yet to record a quality start in his four outings, having allowed at least four runs in each. Opponents are hitting .289 with a .923 OPS against him.

Lester started poorly, allowing 11 runs in 11 innings in his first two starts, all the while maintaining that his stuff remained sharp. His two most recent starts have supported the notion: in his last 13 innings, he’s allowed two runs and struck out 16.

RED SOX VS. FAUSTO CARMONA (2009: 1-3, 7.36; CAREER VS. RED SOX: 1-2, 8.10)

These are the regular-season numbers for the Red Sox against Fausto Carmona. Of course, the regular-season numbers tell a rather incomplete story, since J.D. Drew‘€™s 0-for-4 would look quite a bit different if his grand slam in Game 6 of the 2007 American League Championship Series were factored into the equation.

That said, the availability of Drew (who was 2-for-4 with the aforementioned granny in the 2007 ALCS against Carmona) and Kevin Youkilis (3-for-4 with a walk in the ’07 ALCS) is uncertain tonight, as manager Terry Francona disclosed on Dale & Holley today that both are nicked up to the point where a day off might be in order.

Jason Bay (2): 1-for-2
J.D. Drew (4): 0-for-4
Jacoby Ellsbury (2): 0-for-2
David Ortiz (5): 3-for-5, double, homer
Dustin Pedroia (4): 1-for-3, double
Jason Varitek (4): 2-for-3, walk
Kevin Youkilis (6): 0-for-3, 3 walks

INDIANS VS. JON LESTER (1-2, 4.88 in 2009; 2-0, 4.03 LIFETIME VS. CLEVELAND)

Two of the most significant appearances of Jon Lester‘s career took place in Cleveland. The first, of course, was his first major-league start since he had been declared cancer-free. On July 23, 2007, Lester returned to the hill with six sharp innings, allowing two runs, to earn an emotional 4-2 win.

The second was somewhat more obscure. In Game 4 of the ALCS, Lester entered a contest in which the Sox were getting hammered by a 7-3 count. He was nothing short of dominant, pitching three shutout innings in relief of Tim Wakefield while allowing just one hit and striking out four, his velocity ticking up towards the mid-90s. When Wakefield’s torn labrum prevented him from pitching in the World Series, that outing offered a compelling case that Lester was capable of taking the ball. He did, earning the victory in the clincher against the Rockies. In some ways, then, that relief outing in Cleveland served as a springboard to Lester’s emergence.

Here are the regular-season numbers for the Indians against him:

Asdrubal Cabrera (3 career plate appearances): 0-for-0, walk, two sacrifices
Mark DeRosa: 1-for-3, double
Ben Francisco (3): 0-for-3
Ryan Garko (7): 2-for-6, double, walk
Tony Graffanino (3): 0-for-1, two walks
Travis Hafner (11): 3-for-10, sac fly
Victor Martinez (6): 4-for-6, homer
Jhonny Peralta (12): 2-for-10, two walks
Kelly Shoppach (6): 2-for-4, double, two walks
Grady Sizemore (12): 2-for-9, triple, homer, three walks

Francona on Ortiz: ‘He is Coming’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

In his weekly interview on the Dale and Holley show, Red Sox manager Terry Francona addressed topics such as David Ortiz‘€™s slow start, minor injuries to J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury‘€™s steal of home on Sunday night.

Here are some highlights (transcription provided by Jared Shafran):

Q: Does Ortiz have to reinvent himself? Are the old days gone for him?

A: I think his bat speed has been better in the last week. His balance has been a little off but he has been hitting some really good balls to left field. Those show, to me, that he is coming. He is working his way into feeling good about himself. He is working hard and we do see a lot of improvement.

(Regarding Ellsbury’s steal of home Sunday night) Q: Did you have an issue with taking that chance with 2 outs the way he did?

A: ‘€œNo issue. We know Andy is slow to the plate but those opportunities happen once or twice a year and you either seize it or don’€™t. Berroa happened to be playing deep enough where it became a possibility, Andy didn’€™t look over, Jacoby took off and it worked. It was like the perfect storm.

Q: Was it a situation where if one thing was different then it doesn’€™t happen?

A: There’€™s a lot of ways that it could’€™ve been avoided. Their dugout was yelling but no one heard them. You don’€™t want to do it in the middle of an inning so it’€™s a great play when it works, its obviously an exciting play. I’€™m sure people will be talking about it. I’€™m just glad he was safe. ‘€¦ You could feel the electricity in the stadium and then we followed it up with a hit. We’€™ll take runs any way we can.

Q: Any lineup changes for tonight’€™s game?

A: ‘€œJD’€™s quad got tight as the game went on so we are keeping an eye on him. Youk got hit in the exact same spot twice now so he is a little sore. There’€™s a possibility that both of them wont be in the lineup. If we need to play Van Every in right and Bailey at first then we will.

Whither, Papel-power?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

It’s hard to find too much fault with a pitcher whose ERA still tilts the skills below 2.00, but the last few outings by Jonathan Papelbon (1.93 ERA this year) have been, well, somewhat un-Papel-ish.

First, all the disclaimers:

1) Papelbon has converted all five of his save opportunities.

2) Though he’s given up eight hits in 9.1 innings, each of the last six have been singles, including several groundballs that found holes.

3) Last September, there were questions about whether Papelbon was mortal when he allowed a 5.56 ERA that month. He responded with 10.1 shutout innings in the postseason.

All of that is to say that one probably shouldn’t read too much into Papelbon’s performance through the first three weeks of the season. Nonetheless, it is also clear that he has not quite been up to the standards of his historic career start. (more…)