Nation STATion: Playing the field

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Nation STATion: Playing the field

By Bill Chuck
CSNNE.com

After watching three Red SoxYankee games this weekend my biggest takeaway (other than by the 3rd inning on Saturday I was begging for Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy) is that Ill take Co vs. So-Ro-Mo. That is to say, against the Yankee triad of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera, of all the Sox batters, Ill take Marco Scutaro. Co, when playing for Oakland in 2007 hit a three-run walkoff off of Mo to give the As a 5-4 win, then Sunday night hit a double high off the Monster in the 9th off Rivera and then eventually scored the tying run on Pedroias sac fly.

The other thing that I appreciated about watching these two teams play is that they can field the ball. The only error in the three games was an errant throw by Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a steal attempt. The Sox have been particularly impressive making only 55 errors this season, while the Yankees 69. But its not all about errors when you look at fielding, and the fewest errors dont necessarily equal success. The White Sox have committed the fewest errors in the majors (50) and they are 55-58 this season. However, the Phils have committed the fewest in the NL (52) and they have the best record in baseball. The Rangers (64-51) and the Cubs (49-66) each have committed 94 errors, the most in baseball.

Numbers like that are just part of the reason why the Gold Glove Award is by far the most overrated of all the postseason trophies. Way too frequently, voters simply counted errors as a means of determining winners. This is not to say that all the Gold Glove awardees since its creation in 1957 are unworthy, but too many times, when it was simply awarded based on an error count, the award was given to a player out of respect for his body of work, not exactly for fielding prowess (hello, Derek Jeter). Then there are the players who once they were awarded the trophy gave it up as frequently as an incumbent is voted out office in Congress (take the case of Rafael Palmiero who won in 1997, 98, and 99 despite the fact that in 1999 he was a DH for 128 games and a first baseman for 28 games).

This is not to blame the folks at Rawlings for creating the award, it was good for their business, and it was good for MLB to have some additional postseason awards to gather some press. The biggest problem was that statistically the awards primarily were really based on errors and fielding percentage, with a little bit of assists and putouts tossed in the mix for seasoning.

Then along came Bill James and John Dewan. You know that James is the Einstein of baseball stats. John Dewan, was the CEO of Stats Inc, and is the author of The Fielding Bible, in which he and James developed the PlusMinus System, which measures how many plays a fielder made above or below an average player at his position. Since he first started tracking fielding, Dewan and others have created all sorts of measurements. Heres a few as defined by HardballTimes.com:

UZR coined by John Dewan, the stat was created by Mitchel Lichtman. UZR looks at the trajectory and speed of every batted ball and, based on overall major league averages, assigns a probability that a certain position will field it. If a player at that position fields it, he gets credit above the overall major league average. If he doesn't, he gets negative credit.
RZR - Revised Zone Rating is the proportion of balls hit into a fielder's zone that he successfully converted into an out.
TotalZone Created by Sean Smith, it is similar to UZR in that it evaluates fielders on a plusminus scale compared to average.

The problem that I have, and most of us have, is that you cant figure this out on your own. I mean batting average is basic math: hits divided by at bats. Simple and sweet, just like me. But with all these fielding metrics, we are totally dependent on the folks who have access to the video of the zones and they then can figure out the numbers. On top of that, the value of the numbers can often be obscured by the complexity of what is being measured. This is why I use Rtot--Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg: The number of runs above or below average the player is worth based on the number of plays made as found on Baseball-Reference.com as my primary tool for comparison.

Heres what I found when I looked at the eight positions:

Catcher
Kelly Shoppach of the Rays leads with 11 Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia minus 3 Rtot Salty catches Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball, need I say more?
Jason Varitek minus 2 Tek has totaled -2 for his career
Russell Martin plus 1
Francisco Cervelli minus 4

1b
Adrian Gonzalez - plus 10, leads the league Gonzo has totaled plus-42 for his career
Mark Teixeira plus 1

2b
Dustin Pedroia plus 13, leads the league Pedey has totaled plus 50 in his career. There is no better right side of the infield defensively than Bostons.
Robinson Cano minus 3

3b
Adrian Beltre plus 14, leads the league
Kevin Youkilis plus 3 Youk is plus 16 as a third baseman and plus 28 as a first baseman in his career.
Alex Rodriguez plus 11
Eduardo Nunez minus 1

SS
Alcides Escobar plus 14, leads the league
Marco Scutaro minus 3 Marco is plus 13 for his career at short, but those plus runs were when he played on the turf in Toronto.
Jed Lowrie minus 4 Jed is still plus 4 runs overall at short, but in his first two seasons he was 6 and 3 respectively and has headed downward ever since.
Derek Jeter minus 8

LF
Brett Gardner plus 20, leads the league, the highest rated fielder in baseball
Carl Crawford minus 1 Crawford has been a big disappointment in the field. I note that he has trouble going to right, particularly at Fenway, but he could be feeling the effects of playing all those years on the turf at the Trop. He is still plus 66 lifetime.

CF
Denard Span plus 17, leads the league
Jacoby Ellsbury plus 10 As with everything, what a difference in Ellsbury in the field. Have you noticed that you havent seen those diving plays from Jacoby this season? Thats because he gets a much better jump on the ball and reads the ball better off the bat. Hes plus 9 for his career in center, which means he started the season minus 1.
Curtis Granderson minus 9

RF
Nick Swisher - plus 19, leads the league
Josh Reddick plus 2 Its too early to really judge Reddicks play in right, the only thing we know is that he is not a negative.
J.D. Drew plus 2 The J.D. stands for Just Declining. In 2009, Drew was a plus 21 rightfielder and last year he was plus seven. Its a good thing his contract is up at the end of this season.

We should never underestimate fielding when judging the strength of a team or a player. Los Angeles Dodgers Executive Fresco Thompson said describing his teams number one nemesis, "Willie Mays and his glove. Where triples go to die."

We all remember the walkoffs and the homers, but those are rarities compared to the 20 or so outs per game the Sox fielders produce and the untold number of hits they take away. Spend some time watching the Sox in the field and you will indeed see a first place ballclub.

BASEBALL 2017: O'Halloran, Romero are the decision-makers you don't know

BASEBALL 2017: O'Halloran, Romero are the decision-makers you don't know

Ten years ago this fall, Eddie Romero and Brian O’Halloran stood in the elevator of the Westin in Denver.

O’Halloran’s fuzzy on the exact time, because it was so long ago. 

Yes, we’ll go with that: because it was so long ago.

BASEBALL PREVIEW 2017

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The celebration from the 2007 World Series was tapering off.

“Sort of in a quiet moment, hours after we won,” O’Halloran said. “There were other people in the elevator. It wasn’t all Red Sox personnel.”

No warning came in close confines. 

“Just poured a beer directly over my head,” O’Halloran said. “I had champagne and beer on me from hours earlier. I was dry — on the dryer side — and I think he was concerned that I was angry at him. But I wasn’t. 

“When we won in 2007, we had some fun celebrating, and I think we may have replicated it in 2013.”

As Romero put it, O'Halloran was "way too dry."

"And I like celebrating," Romero said. "Anyone can tell you that."

Including the entirety of the elevator.

These two are still on the ride together today, one stop from the top. O’Halloran, a 45-year-old from Weymouth, Mass., and Romero, a 37-year-old from Puerto Rico whose dad played for the Red Sox, are assistant general managers.

That places them second in the Sox hierarchy, underneath president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. 

O’Halloran’s going into his sixth year with this title, while Romero’s entering his first. The former is known primarily for his contract and rules work, the latter for international scouting. 

People talk about Moneyball and Big Data in baseball. Both topics fit a larger concept: the era of the front office.

There’s a reason Fortune just ranked Theo Epstein the world’s greatest leader in any endeavor. (Yes, ahead of the Pope.)

Epstein doesn’t go it alone, though. Neither does Dombrowski.

And the top two Red Sox lieutenants are quite the pairing.

How Romero and O’Halloran ended up in these jobs after starting off so far away from baseball; why O’Halloran hasn’t moved up even further yet; what led to Romero’s promotion, despite a scandal in his department last year — Dombrowski’s right-hand men are a lot more interesting than the big boss himself.

***

Brian O’Halloran’s father, Jim, passed away in August. This season will be his son’s 16th year with the Red Sox.

Jim was a union printer for 40 years. He started with the Boston Record, one of the papers that eventually folded into the Boston Herald.

His son, however, wants nothing to do with the news-making business.

There’s modesty, and then there’s a direct avoidance of the spotlight. O’Halloran, known around the Red Sox as BOH, operates with the latter.

With a slight edge that reflects his intelligence, O’Halloran stressed about 18 times how many people beyond him and Romero make the Red Sox run.

O’Halloran watched Wednesday’s spring training game with his mother, Mary, a former teacher in Weymouth. 

O’Halloran was directly inspired by his mother’s work.

“One of her close teacher friends was an art teacher, and noticed in kids’ art at the time … a sort of fear of the Soviet Union and nuclear war,” O’Halloran said. “My mom and several other teachers kind of got together and they decided to try and foster some interaction between regular people, particularly kids of the two countries.”

They started an exchange program with the Soviet Union, bringing different groups of kids to the U.S., and to Weymouth, and vice versa.

The first group that came over was from Georgia. The Republic of — not the Peach State.

“I didn’t know what Georgia — I mean, maybe I had heard of the other Georgia, I didn’t know,” O’Halloran said.

His Weymouth school offered Russian, so in his senior year, O’Halloran started to learn it.

Within a few years, the Irish kid from Boston became fluent in Russian and Georgian, languages that are entirely different from each other, never mind English.

***

Eddie Romero’s first language is Spanish, although you wouldn’t know it. He still oversees the Red Sox’ international scouting department, the job description he had before Dombrowski promoted him this offseason after a year of some controversy for Romero. 

A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Romero was easy to spot this spring training in a World Baseball Classic pullover. He didn't hide his allegiance.

Romero would’ve been harder to pick out at Fenway Park in the late 80s, but he was there, always.

Romero’s father, Ed Romero Sr., was an infielder with the Red Sox from 1986-89.

“I used to come with him to the ballpark every day at Fenway,” Romero Jr. said. “I used to run around Fenway with like Dwight Evans’ kids…and Bob Stanley’s son. You kind of grow up and you think, like, everybody has buddies at the ballpark.”

A dream life, to be sure. 

But he had to stay home during the 1986 World Series, with his grandfather. His mother went, he did not.

“I obviously didn’t think it was fair back then — I wanted to go, I was 7,” Romero said. “I remember when everything happened and they lost Game 6. I was with my grandfather on the couch, and I just remember it like yesterday: absolutely bawling. That’s just something that you never forget.”

****

The tanks are also hard to forget. 

Inspired by the Georgians he met in high school, O’Halloran kept studying Russian in college at Colby. He took an eight-week intensive course in Georgian at another campus, too.

Twice, O’Halloran wound up in Georgia, the second time on a fellowship to study ethnic conflict and democratization.

He literally saw tanks roll down the street.

“Tbilisi, Georgia, so the capital city of Georgia,” O’Halloran said. “When I was first there in the fall of 1991, they were trying to overthrow their government. And so there were demonstrations in the street, and the government kind of cracked down."

Classes were canceled, although daily lives weren't entirely interrupted.

After college, O’Halloran wanted to keep working internationally. He went to Washington D.C., then on to Russia, hooking up with a logistics company.

****

Romero always wanted to work in baseball. Doesn’t everyone? But he also had an eye on law school. An internship with the Brewers in 2002 led to some thought of going to law school in Milwaukee at Marquette.

Romero instead went back to the University of Florida, where he did his undergrad work. (He’s still crazy about the Gators.)

While trying to keep irons in the baseball fire, Romero took work. 

Not in corporate law, not at a non-profit — but in Jacksonville, Fla., at the state attorney’s office. As a prosecutor.

“Being a first-year guy, it was mainly misdemeanors,” Romero said. “Domestic violence cases, smaller drug offenses. DUIs. And you grow up pretty quick when you’re dealing with a lot of victims and talking through scenarios and trials and all that stuff. 

“There was a competitive aspect that I liked to it, but there’s also a kind of honorable, civic duty that you’re performing… [That job] makes me appreciate what I do now that much more.”

It was also a duty that he had to break, when he got a phone call that the Red Sox were interested in the resume he sent. 

He wasn’t a full year into the Florida gig.

“I was very nervous about talking to the state attorney when I told him I’d leave,” Romero remembered. “Because you sign up for a couple years. And he was a huge Red Sox fan. That helped so much relieve the stress of having to tell him that I really wanted to take this job.”

Romero said he still has an active license.

****

As his 20’s wound down, O’Halloran was in Moscow and realized he just didn’t have a passion for his line of work. He was handling work for U.S. government contractors, for oil and gas mining companies doing business in Russia. 

He was always a Red Sox fan. An MBA program at UCLA led to a connection and then an internship with a guy named Theo Epstein in San Diego.

But O'Halloran didn't waltz into a fancy job.

“I finished my internship with the Padres,” O’Halloran said. “I was about to get married. My wife to be was starting a master’s program at Harvard. We wanted to be in Boston if we could both be in Boston.

“I was obviously in touch with Theo, because he had hired me in San Diego. At that point they had three baseball operations interns: and that was [now Cubs GM] Jed Hoyer, [now Diamondbacks assistant GM] Amiel Sawdaye, and [now Sox chief marketing officer] Adam Grossman. So, they didn’t have another spot. But he said, ‘Hey, if you want to come in at night when Jed goes home, cause that’s the only computer you’ll be able to use, he usually goes home after the game or at 11 o’clock.'”

BOH accepted. He charted games. After about a month or so, they let him start coming in during the day. How generous.

He wasn’t paid for roughly six months, though.

Romero, meanwhile, started out in international scouting in 2006, climbing the ranks. The same year that O’Halloran became an assistant GM. In 2012, Romero became a director of a department that found some bad press in 2016.

****

In some ways, Romero and O’Halloran were both ahead of the curve. They had skills applicable in other industries, and other careers, before coming to baseball. 

That’s a more common track in the game today than it was when they broke in with the Sox.

Their paths since are more complex.

Romero’s been to 40 or so countries, running out of pages in his passport more than once. 

“How could you beat traveling the world and looking for baseball players as a job?” Romero said.

O’Halloran specialized too, in some ways, focusing on contracts, transactions and administration. But he's had wide-ranging experience in others.

O'Halloran went to scout school. He was involved with the medical side for a couple years. There isn’t a part of the front office he hasn’t touched, although he’s never been directly a part of player development in the way that Ben Cherington was once the farm director. 

“I sort of help in a lot of different ways, with different staffing issues and different departmental issues,” O’Halloran said. "Interdepartmental issues, meaning, the different baseball operations departments, like amateur scouting, pro scouting, major league operations.”

O’Halloran knows the collective bargaining agreement inside and out. Romero, born from a scouting background, is broadening those horizons now. 

The older assistant GM’s the teacher, the newer the student.

O’Halloran’s very process-based, while Romero’s more impulsive — the latter out of necessity in the international amateur world.

Beers in elevators tell you everything.

***

Two things jump out.

One, O’Halloran’s never interviewed for a GM job anywhere. That will change.

Two, Romero was promoted to AGM just months after his department was involved in a precedent-setting scandal.

Romero was still the international director last year when the Red Sox were punished for impermissible signing-bonus practices in 2015. MLB voided five signings the league deemed the team should not have been able to make. 

In short, the Red Sox were supposed to be able to give an individual player no more than $300,000. MLB — with the help of an informant — found players were receiving more than that via re-distribution of bonuses amongst signees.

The Sox felt they were singled out for something a lot of teams did and still do.

“He paid the price,” Dombrowski said of Romero. “We paid the price. I understood the situation…I thought Eddie handled himself well. 

“I understand how Latin America works. I could not condone what took place. But the reality is I think Eddie’s a very good person and also does his job very well.”

Romero did not want to discuss what happened, other than to say it was a difficult time and that he appreciated the faith placed in him.

O’Halloran, meanwhile, has seen many former colleagues move on to prominent jobs. 

He’s been a constant in Boston, but with teams hiring younger executives, some far less experienced than him, it begs the question: why not him?

“He is very knowledgable,” Dombrowski said. “I would gather that he’s come up through the contractual administrative rule aspect of it, so sometimes that’s not the area where people reach out for the general manager aspect of it. But I can’t say that for sure.

"We signed him to a long-term contract. I think the world of him, he assists me in everything.”

***

Neither O’Halloran nor Romero hinted at any remorse that they didn’t stick with their prior life. O’Halloran doesn't wish he were a diplomat, Romero doesn't miss case work.

Now, as Dombrowski begins his second full year, they’re crucial figures for the Sox.

But their prior lives are still relevant. Both men, notably, studied and witnessed conflict in detail. 

"One of the things that going to law school teaches you is alternative ways to attack problems," Romero said, "and dispute resolution."

Both have agreeable personalities.

“We were at the winter meetings in Dallas,” the Diamondbacks' Sawdaye recalled of his time with the Red Sox. “We took a cab, like a van to dinner. I can’t remember, there might have been five or six of us. Brian was sitting up front, or really close to the front. 

“I don’t really recall how he figured it out. … Next thing you know, Brian and the driver are like going off laughing, talking Georgian. And the guy wanted to introduce him to his family. Literally, like, a 10-minute cab ride where he made this new best friend.”

Romero and O'Halloran were long shots to ever end up in the same room together. Colleagues for a dozen years, they're sharing a different ride now.

Red Sox place Pomeranz on DL, but he may not miss a start

Red Sox place Pomeranz on DL, but he may not miss a start

Roster flexibility, something of substance, or a combination of both?

The Red Sox on Thursday placed Drew Pomeranz on the brand new 10-day disabled list because of a left forearm flexor strain.

"It's become more and more clear he's not ready to begin the season," John Farrell told reporters, including The Providence Journal's Tim Britton, on Thursday morning.

The Sox don’t need a fifth starter, Pomeranz’s potential spot, until April 9. He can be activated before then. So, in effect, the trip to the DL frees up an extra roster spot.

Farrell said the team hopes Pomeranz will be able to make his scheduled start but "is certainly not guaranteeing it."

The situation could prove an interesting look at how MLB handles its new 10-day disabled list. If Pomeranz continues on his previously planned schedule, the Red Sox could be seen as simply be using the 10-day DL to their advantage. But Farrell spoke earlier this spring about how he expected MLB to highly scrutinize trips to the DL.

Pomeranz’s forearm is known not to be in the best of shape, considering he went for a stem-cell injection this offseason.