Nation STATion: Nine questions facing the Red Sox

538568.jpg

Nation STATion: Nine questions facing the Red Sox

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Watching postseason action might have Red Sox Nation thinking about what could have been and what should have been. It was only made worse on Tuesday when Adrian Beltre went deep three times and Victor Martinez hit his own homer. However, the focus has to be on what will be. Que sera?

To sum up where we stand right now:
Red Sox have no manager.
The general manager may be leaving.
We have a number of free agents in critical positions.
And, we have a number of pitchers who drink in the clubhouse and stink on the mound.

With all that in mind, here are nine questions to ponder:
1. Who will provide the Sox with right-hand power?
Red Sox batters hit .274 this season, second only to the Rangers .287. However, the Rangers righties hit 149 homers to lead the league and the Sox righties only hit 71, good for 10th in the league. The power drop from last year was significant as righties his 126 homers for the Sox in 2010. Not only that, but Sox righties had only 612 hits (11th in the league) down from 949 last season.

2. What will the Sox do behind the plate?
Red Sox catchers led the AL with 29 homers, but their .229 batting average was only good for the ninth in the league. Making matters worse, Boston catchers led the AL with 189 strikeouts, 99 more than White Sox catchers, who had the fewest whiffs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ended up at only .235 but did hit 16 homers. He struck out once every 3.0 at bats.

The big question is who will share Saltys slot? Jason Varitek is the captain, and he has great knowledge about the pitching staff. The problem is that even that even though he hit 11 homers, as good as he is behind the plate, he is a liability at the plate. His .221 batting average raised his average over the last four seasons to .218. From July 8 to the end of the season, 'Tek played 28 games and hit .184 and had a .252 OBP. In September, he hit .077. Ryan Lavarnway does not yet have great skills behind the plate, but this season in the minors he hit .290 with 32 homers and 93 RBI and he is a right-hand hitter.

3. Why are the 1st innings so bad for Sox pitchers?
The three worst 1st inning pitching staffs: Baltimore starters allowed 117 runs in the 1st inning, Royals starters allowed 103 runs, and Sox starters allowed 96.

Oakland starters allowed just 65 runs.

It's no surprise that John Lackey allowed the most with 26 1st inning runs, but Jon Lester allowed 19 and while Beckett just 13. It could be worse as he gave up a team leading five homers.

4. If the 1st inning is so bad, why is the 2nd inning even worse?
Baltimore allowed 105 1st inning runs and the Sox and Jays allowed 98 each.

Angels pitchers in 162 2nd innings allowed only 51 runs.

In 23 2nd innings, Tim Wakefield allowed 21 runs. Lester gave up 13, but Beckett allowed just seven.

5. How do the Sox get their starters in shape?
There has been a lot of talk about the conditioning of Bostons pitchers. We could clearly see it in a number of them stood on the mound, but here is a way to quantify it. Lets assume that the first 100 pitches thrown in a game belong to the starter. We have already acknowledged that the first two innings have been shaky, which is why opponents hit .247 on the first 25 pitchers of the game. Sox pitchers settled down on the next 25 and held batters to a .235 batting average. They started weakening slightly on pitches 51-75 as the average moved up to .241. But conditioning is a critical part of pitches 76-100 and opponents rattled Sox pitchers for a .278 BAA. That included Clay Buchholz .324, Wakes .333, and Lackeys .348.

Do not blame Beckett, even when he threw over 101 pitches batters only hit .196 from that point on. However, if you want to look at it as the season progressed as opposed to as the game progressed:

In June batters hit .213 against the Sox starters. In July: .292. In August: .257.
In September they hit an even .300. That includes Jon Lesters .282 BAA in six September starts.
6. Where do you bat Carl Crawford?
Carl Crawford had one horrible month (April, when hit .155), one good month (May, when he hit .304) and the rest of the season was just mediocre (June through September, he hit .269). Last September, Crawford hit .360. This season, just .264. There really was nothing encouraging about the season for Crawford. He only had 18 steals and from June on he only had 11 steals in 13 attempts. He was not a threat or a distraction. He is a career .262 hitter against lefties but this year he looked totally out of sync as he hit just .195, down 61 points from 2010. Crawford has batted in every slot in the batting order in his career and this year he only didnt bat clean-up or 9th.

He has made it clear he doesnt like hitting leadoff and he proved it by hitting by hitting .094 in seven starts.

His best spots were seventh and sixth in which he hit .315 and.280 respectively. The only trouble is that he only scored 19 runs from the seventh position, as the batters behind him were the weakest in the Sox lineup.
7. Where do you bat Jacoby Ellsbury?
There is a very good chance that Jacoby Ellsbury could win the AL MVP. He put together one of the great seasons in Red Sox history. He hit .321, scored 119 runs, drove in 105, hit 32 homers and stole 39 bases. The 32 homers moved his career total to 52, but his 39 steals is the fewest of his three complete season (he previously had stole 50 and 70). Thanks to Jacoby:

Red Sox leadoff batters led the AL with a .310 batting average.
Red Sox leadoff batters tied Texas for the AL lead with 33 homers.
Red Sox leadoff batters led the AL with 105 RBI.

Jacoby and Texas Ian Kinsler were the only leadoff batters with over 30 homers. Texas is deeper in power throughout its lineup, so if Jacoby is becoming more of a power hitter will he be more valuable deeper in the Boston line-up?

8. Is team speed an issue?
Fortunately baseball is a very different game today than it s was during the steroid era. We get to see well-pitched games and games decided by a mix of power and speed. The question is whether the Sox can compete properly in this new world order.

Would it shock you if I told that Ellsbury this year was an average base stealer? Jacoby was 39 for 54 in steal attempts, a stolen base percentage of 72 percent. The league averaged 72 percent.

Dustin Pedroia averaged 76 percent and Crawford 75 percent as the team averaged 71 percent.

But team speed is not just about stealing bases; its also about taking the extra base and scoring when given the opportunity.

Ponder this: 350 times this season a runner was on first when a single was hit, 248 times the runner moved no farther than second.

How about this: there were 205 times when the Sox had a runner on second when a single was hit, the runner scored 120 times.

Whoever comes in next needs to address both speed and base running skills.

9. Who do you keep, who do you seek?
The Sox have a number of free agents and a number of important decisions need to be made on the makeup of this squad for next year and the years to come. It is more than just talent that needs to be taken under consideration when putting together a ballclub. Yes, there is the budget, but there is also team composition, an issue that has not seemed like a priority lately. Next years manager and general manager will clearly need to be chemists, but also an alchemist, a person who turns lead into gold.

Starting Monday, Nation STATion will look at the numbers for the Sox free agents, so that you can best decide who keep and who to send packing.

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez elected to Hall of Fame

astros_jeff_bagwell_011817.jpg

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez elected to Hall of Fame

NEW YORK - Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Wednesday, earning the honor as Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero fell just short.

Steroids-tainted stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were passed over for the fifth straight year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But they received significantly more votes this time and could be in position to gain election in coming years.

Bagwell, on the ballot for the seventh time after falling 15 votes short last year, received 381 of 442 votes for 86.2 percent. Players needed 75 percent, which came to 332 votes this year.

In his 10th and final year of eligibility, Raines was on 380 ballots (86 percent). Rodriguez received 336 votes (76 percent) to join Johnny Bench in 1989 as the only catchers elected on the first ballot.

Hoffman was five votes shy and Guerrero 15 short.

Edgar Martinez was next at 58.6 percent, followed by Clemens at 54.1 percent, Bonds at 53.8 percent, Mike Mussina at 51.8 percent, Curt Schilling at 45 percent, Lee Smith at 34.2 percent and Manny Ramirez at 23.8 percent.

Players will be inducted July 30 during ceremonies at Cooperstown along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta Braves executive John Schuerholz, both elected last month by a veterans committee.

Bagwell was a four-time All-Star who spent his entire career with Houston, finishing with a .297 batting average, 401 homers and 1,401 RBIs.

Raines, fifth in career stolen bases, was a seven-time All-Star and the 1986 NL batting champion. He spent 13 of 23 big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, who left Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season, and joins Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as the only players to enter the Hall representing the Expos.

Raines hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage, playing during a time when Rickey Henderson was the sport's dominant speedster.

Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star who hit .296 with 311 homers and 1,332 RBIs, was never disciplined for PEDs but former Texas teammate Jose Canseco alleged in a 2005 book that he injected the catcher with steroids. Asked whether he was on the list of players who allegedly tested positive for steroids during baseball's 2003 survey, Rodriguez said in 2009: "Only God knows."

Bonds, a seven-time MVP who holds the season and career home run records, received 36.2 percent in his initial appearance, in 2013, and jumped from 44.3 percent last year. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, rose from 45.2 percent last year.

Bonds was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs, but a jury failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer. The conviction was overturned appeal in 2015.

Clemens was acquitted on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.

A 12-time All-Star on the ballot for the first time, Ramirez was twice suspended for violating baseball's drug agreement. He helped the Boston Red Sox win World Series titles in 2004 and `07, the first for the franchise since 1918, and hit .312 with 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs in 19 big league seasons.

Several notable players will join them in the competition for votes in upcoming years: Chipper Jones in 2018, Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay in 2019, and Derek Jeter in 2020.

Sam Travis among nine non-roster invitees added to Red Sox spring training roster

Sam Travis among nine non-roster invitees added to Red Sox spring training roster

The Red Sox have invited nine non-roster players to spring training, the team announced Wednesday. The team now has a total of 15 non-roster invitees. 

Added Wednesday to the spring training roster were outfielder/infielder Allen Craig, third baseman Rafael Devers, first baseman Sam Travis, catcher Jordan Procyshen, outfielders Brian Bogusevic and Rusney Castillo, and right-handed pitchers Kyle Kendrick, Chandler Shepherd and Ben Taylor.

In addition to 39 players on the 40-man roster, the Sox have the following breakdown of non-roster invitees: 

Pitchers: Kyle Kendrick, Edgar Olmos, Chandler Shepherd, Ben Taylor, Marcus Walden
 
Catchers: Dan Butler, Jake DePew, Jordan Procyshen
 
Infielders: Rafael Devers, Matt Dominguez, Sam Travis
 
Outfielders: Brian Bogusevic, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Junior Lake