The Boston Red Sox have made three signings recently that I very much like. Individually, aside from money and years, they don’t look that great. John Smoltz is coming off a serious arm injury and may not be ready to pitch the first few months. Brad Penny had injury problems last season, and one cannot realistically project how many innings, or of what quality he will give the team. And instead of having a little house out back of Rocco Baldelli’s house, one that he owns, with a kitchen, bathroom etc, that he rents out to his brother or cousin. He instead has an ER, with doctors sitting around twiddling their thumbs, much like they do in the bullpen, while watching Baldelli hit (When HE does, in fact, hit).
But then one takes a deeper look at the way the Red Sox roster is constructed, and they come to the realization that each one of these moves is a plus for the team. The Red Sox have four spots in the rotation locked up, secured, gated.
Tim Wakefield: aging veteran who will be appoximately league average while giving a decent amount of innings.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Good stuff, above average results. Plays like he is jumping off a bridge, only to catch his balance most times.
Josh Beckett: Likes to play with the fans emotions, bouncing back and forth between good and great. And has always seemed to miss a few starts throughout the season.
Jon Lester: Very good left hander, with very good stuff. Including a wicked cutter, that appears to be a 4-seamer, until…wait…it moves in on the hands at the last second, and the hitter cannot do anything with it.
But as I spoke of recently, the fifth starter is still up for grabs. Clay Buchholz could be that guy. Michael Bowden could potentially be that guy later in the year. But now Brad Penny or John Smoltz could be that guy, too.
As far as I know, Penny should be ready for the start of the season. How long he can stay in the rotation is less of a known. If nothing else, Penny can provide a few innings early on to let Buchholz appease the front office gods down in the minor leagues, and make his way up. Or Penny could start the year, and if he is not pitching all that well, Smoltz could take his job in May or June. Best case scenario, assuming that the Red Sox keep Buchholz (the Smoltz and Penny signings could lead to moving either Buchholz or Bowden for a catcher), is that Clay gets his stuff together and gives the Red Sox what they have been waiting for. Worst case scenario is probably the four pitchers combining in some way to give the Red Sox enough innings from the fifth spot to allow them to compete in the division. Individually, each pitcher has their “red flags,” but collectively they should give the team some decent innings throught out the year.
And this isn’t just about the fifth spot in the rotation when talking about Penny and Smoltz. Someone will miss a start or two, or more, due to injury. And having depth allows them to have someone fill in that isn’t terrible. Whether Dice-K fatigues, Beckett blisters up, or Wake’s back aches, they have someone to take that void for the time being. And that is important. And don’t forget the possibility that Smoltz and Penny succeed, letting Smoltz move to the bullpen, if he is capable, to give the Red Sox more depth out there.
And there was that other guy, Rocco Baldelli. If Baldelli was penciled in as a starter, on any team, then they better have a backup that is roughly as productive. Because expecting Baldelli to play 135+ games is unlikely, and unrealistic. But since the Red Sox have above average corner OF’s, and what should be a roughly average CF, then Baldelli is only going to be needed when Drew misses his 40 games, and when Bay might need a day off, or whatever else comes up. Baldelli should not be relied upon as a starter, but he could be relied on as a backup, and that is what he is for the time being. And Baldelli still has potential, still has talent. There is always a chance that since his condition is now thought, or known, to be treatable, that Rocco puts it all together and stays relatively healthy. If healthy, he should hit somewhat. Baldelli has never put up great numbers, but has been about average. The positive is that he is only 26, and his prime is just beginning.
None of the starters, as their own, should be entered into the equation. But all of them should serve a part, and a purpose, in helping the Red Sox compete a little more within the toughest division in baseball. All are coming in on one year deals, so there isn’t much risk at all. And all are coming in on affordable contracts, for a large market team even more so. No draft picks lost, but talent galore arriving (maybe). These are good moves, that may not seem like much, but may turn out to be significant.
Ok, maybe using hyperbole there, as much of this may have derived from the “subjective.” But to watch a pitcher with as much talent as Daisuke try and paint the corners on nearly every pitch, is definitely frustrating. There have been many pitchers from the past that come up or over and just don’t turn out to be what their “stuff” indicated they should become. I guess that would be much more frustrating than watching a pitcher perform pretty well, but running up high pitch counts, and racking up more early exits than most “effective” starters do. I am not complaining, as watching Matsuzaka exit with one out in the 6th after walking 5, all while giving up only one or two earned runs, probably isn’t as terrible as watching say…Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera, a supposed hot-head with very good stuff, one whom lights up the radar gun, has been no better than aveerage over his career. As a whole, Cabrera has been below average. So I will take Dice-K over him almost any day of the week.
Yet still, my emotions run wild during a Matsuzaka start. I am at a point where I try not to get TOO caught up in a single game, as it is a very long season (unless of course it is Red Sox-Yankees). But when Daisuke takes the hill, and pitches well one inning, then walks two the next inning…only to escape. Then the following inning strikes out two, then lets a few baserunners on after those two outs…It is frustrating. And I think that some of it is mechanical, but ultimately mental.
Scout? No, I am not. But that does not mean that I cannot see Daisuke deviate from a motion that had been working for five or so innings. Using last night’s game as an example: The first inning was rough. Two quick outs followed by a walk, an infield single, and another walk. Then Daisuke pulls one of his many “miracles” out of a bag that seems to be full of them…a groundout and the inning is over. But something happened, the next five innings Daisuke settled in very nicely, hitting the majority of his spots, and walking only a single batter. Trouble alluded him because he prevented it from doing so. Funny how that works. In the seventh though, Matsuzaka seemed to be doing something slightly different mechanically, and all of a sudden his pitches were all over the place. With a little luck, he escaped trouble once again, but this time he did not avoid getting himself into it. But what was he doing wrong? I am sure that if I were to watch video of it, I could pick something up. But I am no scout, and in a pitchers duel, a gem of a game, I had more important stuff to worry about, to concentrate on. A win, to be exact.
This has to be a problem of concentration. Not repeating the exact same motion, I would assume, is mostly mental. Unless there was an injury preventing one from doing so. I used to pitch in high school, only a few actual game innings on the mound, but I never had to worry about a repeated delivery. I just went out and threw the ball, mixing in my below average circle change, with my below average curveball…and a fastball that wasn’t slow, but wasn’t ever located properly. I didn’t understand the “logistics” of fastball locating at the age of 16, and was without MLB.TV to watch every night (to learn from the pros). Anyway, the point I was making is that I never had to go through any of the issues that a lot of pitchers go through. I never pitched enough to have a coach come tell me to focus because I am straying away from my delivery, nor did I ever establish an exact delivery. But Dice-K has. He knows the ins and outs and every little thing that goes on during his delivery (as do his well educated coaching staff). Yet, time and time again, the ball ends up in the dirt. Time and time again, the ball ends up a little up, rather than outside where Varitek sets up.
But again, I am not complaining. I just want to see Daisuke repeat his mechanics properly, to get the most effectiveness out of his vast repertoire of pitches. After all, I am a fan. And he is one of the best pitchers on the team that I cheer for. The walks, the high pitch counts, they are fixable. Yet, at this point, it is up to him to put an end to them. And it is very possible to do this, Daisuke just needs to focus.
(Note: Overall, very good performance by Dice K last night against the Twins, but he still looked a little shaky mechanically, in two of the seven full innings that he pitched, and a little shaky in the beginning of the 8th too).
96 pitches and the exit for Daisuke? Seven innings pitched well, not great, but well enough, and Matsuzaka gets taken out of the game. I don’t necessarily disagree with it, but I would like to know exactly why Francona did it. One reason could be that he was surprised Daisuke was semi-efficient, and was glad to take the seven innings and move on. Once again, the Twins are very impatient, so I wouldn’t look too much into this start. It was pretty much the same in the beginning, walks, more pitches, opportunities for the Twins. The Twins actually hit the ball decent off Matsuzaka, they hit some balls hard, and they went the other way, almost with ease it seemed at one point. But once Daisuke finally settled down, in the last few innings he was awesome. His pitches appeared to be “crisp,” locating everything perfectly, including that fastball on the outside corner that he sometimes struggles with (fastball in general I mean). Which leads me to believe that maybe he has to throw all the pitches beforehand, like he did in Japan, to maximize his potential. I don’t know, but it shouldn’t take four or five innings to get your **** straight. And what he showed us late in the game, is almost a tease. If he becomes that pitcher, he will be a bonafide ace, but if he continues to pitch wildy, and run up his pitch count, then he may still have some success, but he simply will not be as good as he could be. He is the most fascinating pitcher for me to watch personally, but he can also be the most frustrating.
The second reason Francona may have taken him out, might have been because he didn’t necessarily trust Daisuke in the following inning. As well as Matsuzaka had pitched down the stretch in this game, he was only a few walks away from creating a problem for either himself, the bullpen, or most importantly, the team. So Francona may simply have taken him out to bring in someone whom he trusted more than Matsuzaka.
The other reason they might have removed Dice-K, was simply to limit his pitches. It kind of goes hand and hand with the first reason, take him out with seven good innings, while limiting his pitch count, hoping that he does not fatigue once again this season. They have a reliable bullpen, with two very capable arms, and a few other decent options too. And of course, to elaborate on the second reason, Okajima has not been nearly as effective when he has been brought in with men on base so far in this young season. So having Okajima start the inning made some sense too.
Joe Mauer has such a great eye at the plate. These are the things that one does not see in the statistics. Sure, I can look at the “pitches per PA.” But seeing it is something that has always marveled me. I have gone on before about how I admire what Abreu and Drew are able to do with the strike zone. And when I have seen Fukudome, he is able to do the same thing. They have such a great eye of the strike zone, it’s just amazing to me, how they can be so calm, and so aware of it. It does frustrate me when Drew watches a called third strike go by, if it is clearly a strike that is. If it’s a questionable call, it hurts a little less, but if it’s a ball, then Drew is right. I don’t buy that, “It’s too close to take” saying. If it is a ball then the umpire screwed up. It is like what Wade Boggs (I think) said when he was on BBTN (This isn’t an exact quote): These players spend their entire lives learning the strike zone, they aren’t going to relearn the zone for each umpire that wants to express himself by calling balls and strikes with a different mentality.
Every umpire should be on the same page, they aren’t, but they should be.
But anyway, Daisuke threw more strikes last night. And hopefully he continues with more of the same, because there is a difference between a “pretty good” pitcher, and a “GREAT” pitcher.