Time to Standardize the DH

Baseball has been around for a very long time. One of the great things about baseball, however, is that over time it has been receptive to change and evolution in the interest of making the game better. A good example of this change came in 1973, when the American League decided to adopt the Designated Hitter for the good of the game, something that the National League has refused to do to this day. The time has come to change that. There is a window of opportunity for that to happen, as Rob Manfred will be replacing Bud Selig as Commissioner in the offseason and can impose a new vision on the game. There needs to be one rule for both leagues, and it needs to include a DH.

Last night’s Red Sox-Pirates game in Pittsburgh clearly highlighted the need for a universal DH. Due to the host being a National League ballpark, and therefore playing without the DH, David Ortiz was left out of the starting lineup entirely. This led to Daniel Nava hitting third (Daniel Nava!!!!!!!) and the lineup predictably suffered, failing to score a run or put up really a credible threat or rally. In addition, starter Anthony Ranaudo was forced to go up and flail at three pitches every few innings as the price he had to pay to stay in the game. Unfortunately Red Sox fans should get used to such a phenomenon, because it will need to happen for the remainder of the current series in Pittsburgh.

But beyond just the Red Sox, the lack of a DH throughout baseball presents nothing but problems. With the move to balanced leagues holding fifteen teams each, almost every night some American League team will be at a disadvantage while playing in a National League ballpark. American League rosters are constructed with the thought that they can carry an extra bat that might be a defensive liability, or that they can rotate a bunch of players through the DH spot to keep them fresh for an entire season. Does it really make sense to create a disadvantage for an American League club playing in a National League park, when that same National League team gains an advantage while coming to an AL park?

In addition, there really is no value whatsoever to having pitchers “hit.” The National League team with the highest OPS from its pitchers (because sample sizes are too small for AL teams), is the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a .429 mark. That’s not their OBP, neither is it a typo; a .429 OPS. The triple-slash comes to .168/.214/.216. So that means that theoretically the team with the best-hitting pitchers in baseball still puts up a worse line than Will Middlebrooks (.520 OPS, .186/.253/.266). Conversely, the AL team (again for the sake of sample size) getting the least production out of its DH’s, the Seattle Mariners, has posted a .566 OPS (.189/.264/.302). The very worst of the DH’s in baseball are still significantly more effective than the very best hitting pitchers. This is an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The bottom line is that there is no need to still have pitchers hit in the Major Leagues. It creates an unfair disadvantage for half of the league, and fans do not enjoy it. Fans want to see Victor Martinez face Felix Hernandez with the game on the line, not some backup utility infielder pinch-hit and get blown away by Clayton Kershaw. It creates problems for managers, who come to the point where they have to decide between killing a rally by letting their pitcher hit or pinch-hitting and losing their pitcher for the rest of the game. This is reflected in the numbers, as six out of the top ten teams in baseball in Complete Games reside in the American League. Major League Baseball says it wants to change the game to attract and keep younger fans. The first thing they can do is to end the nonsense, and take the bat out of pitchers’ hands.

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Xander Bogaerts Giving Red Sox Hope in 2015

Coming into a season as an alleged “super prospect” does not always work well for a major league ballplayer. Xander Bogaerts would know all about it, as he has been either at or near the top of prospect lists for the past few seasons. His performance in the 2013 postseason reinforced his star prospect status, and much was expected of him in 2014. There could be a fair argument that too much was expected of a 21-year-old shortstop with only about a month and a half’s worth of major league experience, and needless to say Bogaerts has performed well below expectation in 2014. Until now. Since the beginning of September, Bogaerts has been a complete house on fire, and is (again) giving both the Red Sox and their fans reason to hope for big things in 2015.

Bogaerts has had an uneven season, to say the least. Before the completely unnecessary Stephen Drew signing in mid-May, Bogaerts was having a solid season. From the beginning of the season up until Drew’s signing on May 20, Bogaerts put together a respectable .270/.372/.378 line, with a .341 wOBA and 115 wRC+. Now this obviously does not come in a huge sample size (172 plate appearances), but a season’s worth of production at that level would at least have a player in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year Award. But as Red Sox fans are well aware, the subsequent move to third base (again unnecessary) seemed to unravel Bogaerts entirely. From that point until the end of August, he struggled to a .201/.252/.313 line, exhibiting shaky (at best) shortstop defense. But perhaps the midseason dump of Drew to the Yankees (who better) was the motivation needed for Bogaerts to find his stroke. There is something to be said for job security, and moving back to a more natural defensive position could have been the spark to Bogaerts’ recent revival.

The revival in question much resembles last October, when Red Sox Nation sat in awe of the young shortstop. Since the beginning of the month, Bogaerts has been a completely different player entirely, as if there was an imposter in his place up to that point. While coming in another admittedly small sample size (just 61 PA), Bogaerts’ line in September currently sits at .368/.383/.649, with an incredible .444 wOBA and 186 wRC+. Whether there have been changes in Bogaerts’ stance, swing, or approach are tough to judge in such a small sample, but whatever he is currently doing is working.

After such a miserable season for Bogaerts, both at the plate and in the field, it is vital that he end the season on a good note. The Red Sox need Bogaerts to prove that he is in fact the shortstop of the future, and that the shortstop job should unquestionably be his going into Spring Training. A stretch like this is exactly what he needs to regain his confidence going into next year, and to help transform him into the superstar that was on display last fall.

Can The RedSox Fix Allen Craig?

At the time of the deadline deal with St. Louis involving John Lackey, Allen Craig was a complete mystery. After posting a weighted runs created of at least 134 in each of the previous two seasons, Craig was slumping badly in 2014 to the point where the Cardinals deemed him expendable. The Red Sox had interest in him as a buy-low candidate that could potentially add some thump to the lineup. The only problem so far is that Craig has been much worse in Boston than he was in St. Louis. Much (.100/.250/.200), much (36.7 K%, .148 BABIP) worse (.278 wOBA, 74 wRC+). So what exactly is going on with Allen Craig, and can the Red Sox ever expect him to get back to being the middle of the lineup force he was with the Cardinals?

One of the anomalies of Craig’s struggles is that his batted-ball profile has very little year over year variation. Craig’s linedrive (21.4%), groundball (46.4%), and flyball rates (32.1%) with the Red Sox are almost identical to his career rates (22.8%, 46.6 %, and 30.6% career, respectively), so there is really nothing there to be concerned with. As mentioned above, his BABIP and strikeout rate with the Red Sox are abysmal, and this could be playing a role in the off year. During his productive years with the Cardinals, Craig posted unusually high BABIPs (.334, .368), so some regression should have been expected. However, there has to be something else at play here than just a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play.

Could there be something in the way pitchers are attacking Craig in the American League? When compared with his career marks to date, it seems that pitchers in the AL have a different gameplan against Craig than those in the Senior Circuit. With the Red Sox Craig is seeing fewer fastballs (47.9% with Red Sox, 55.3% career), roughly the same amount of sliders (17.1%, 17.5%) and changeups (9.2%, 9.5%), and many more splitters (5.1%, 1.6%). The splitter has been a serious problem for Craig this season, as he is currently half a run below the average hitter (-0.5 wSF) against the splitter on the year. Craig has also been below average against the slider (-2.2 wSL) and changeup (-0.6) in Boston, giving him little advantage in the box. This breakdown makes it pretty clear why Craig has been seeing fewer fastballs in Boston.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is no different here. While it is much easier said than done, Allen Craig needs to adjust to the different way he is being pitched with the Red Sox. Craig is seeing fewer fastballs because he has been bad against offspeed stuff in 2014. Pitchers notice this trend and feature splitters and changeups and breaking stuff; Craig needs to adapt. Pitchers have adjusted to him, now he needs to adjust to how he is being pitched. Along with that, the strikeouts need to come down as well, but that can be addressed if Craig gains a better understanding of how he is being pitched. With a few tweaks to his approach, there is reason to believe Craig can be at least a productive hitter for the Red Sox at some point in the future.

A Closer Look At RedSox Rookies Xander Bogaerts & Jackie Bradley Jr

It’s safe to say at this point that the Red Sox newfound philosophy of “bringing up the kids” did not go as planned.

Red Sox rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. looked to be promising contributors going into the season. Bradley earned his starting job in spring training, while Bogaerts proved himself more than deserving of manning shortstop with his 2013 post-season campaign. Each were expected to carry their weight in what, on paper, figured to be one of the better lineups in the American League.

Starting the kids seemed like the right gamble to take this year, after the magical 2013 season. We all expected that there would be some small bumps in the road with the continual development of the youngsters. What we did not expect was a bump that was just about as big as the 2014 season itself.

With a good start to September, Bogaerts’ batting average is now up to .237 to go along with 37 RBIs. Perhaps the worst part has been the dismal .147 batting average with runners in scoring position, and an even uglier .115 batting average with RISP and two outs – a totally different player from last years postseason campaign to say the least. Bradley Jr., while playing an elite center field, owns a .213 batting average of his own, and at times has really struggled to produce at the dish before his demotion in August.

It’s hard to tell whether the blame is put more on the Red Sox organization or the players. Take Bradley Jr. for example. With the recent rumor that Bradley Jr. was deemed “uncoachable” by not being open to the idea of working with the hitting staff to change his swing, it’s unclear the truth behind the matter and who is at fault here. Maybe Bradley Jr. displayed some stubbornness, or maybe the hitting staff unnecessarily toyed around with his swing one too many times, which Bradley Jr. reportedly said a week before his demotion in August.

Similar situation with Bogaerts, and his early season struggles at shortstop. The Sox told the 21 year old to shift over to third base in favor of Stephen Drew. The move was not exactly a vote of confidence for the Rookie, as he hit .135 while playing third base upon Drew’s arrival at the beginning of June. Maybe the move was premature, or maybe he really didn’t have the mental toughness that was called into question.

 

red sox rookies

My opinion is that it is fair to give much of the blame to the Red Sox front office- not so much for what went on during the season, but for the situation. And by that, I mean they were hurried up to the big leagues. They just weren’t ready yet, and it showed. Their weaknesses were exposed. The pressure got to them. They were immature, unprepared and underdeveloped. So much so, that their lack of experience played into how they handled each’s respective struggles. What’s most frustrating is that these guys have the potential to be great players, and we certainly have seen flashes of this season.

We can only hope that if the Red Sox continue to go the route of integrating the kids as part of this organization’s future, they’ll know when they’ll be ready to call them up and for how long. You can’t risk this again with the likes of Marrero, Cecchini, Owens or Barnes, who was called up on Monday. A team with the fourth highest salary can certainly buy both big league caliber player and the time to develop its farm system.

 

Rusney Castillo Signing Reveals Larger Plan For Red Sox

The Red Sox made a statement when they agreed to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with Cuban defector Rusney Castillo. They are (at least for now) back to using their financial muscles in the free agent market, and seem prepared to spend to get their targets. But in showing that they still are willing to behave like a large-market club, the Red Sox also gave away part of their plan for the coming offseason. Adding Castillo makes it abundantly clear that the Red Sox will use their organizational depth on the trade market to add at least one major, franchise-changing piece to the roster.

The idea that the Red Sox are now in a position to make a major splash on the trade market is based solely on the numbers game. The team is stockpiling players, creating a situation where they have many quality players for few available spots. This depth is going to basically force the Red Sox to make some type of move, because there is no use having so many quality players if they do not get the chance to play at all. There is now surplus is almost every area of the Red Sox organization, which means someone will have to go in order to clear the picture. The outfield, for example, now appears more crowded than the Mass Pike at rush hour, with a combination of veterans and prospects vying for playing time. But the prospects are the key here, as they are the most valuable commodity and the most tradable asset in this scenario. Despite his recent demotion, Jackie Bradley Jr. was likely going to be in the team’s future plans in some capacity, and Mookie Betts is currently getting a chance to prove he can be the impact player he was in the minor leagues. Castillo’s signing now suggests that neither player will start for the Red Sox in the near future. Third base is becoming crowded as well, with Brock Holt and Will Middlebrooks currently splitting time there and Garin Cecchini waiting in the minors. Christian Vazquez has stabilized things behind the plate for the time being, but Blake Swihart has been more highly regarded as a prospect and is getting closer to the majors. This is all to say nothing of the tremendous organizational pitching depth that was only bolstered at the trade deadline.

The Red Sox have reportedly been trying to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from Miami for quite some time, especially since Stanton appears unhappy with the Marlins’ front office. However, to this point the Marlins have been publicly adamant that they will refuse to trade him, despite numerous reported offers. This could potentially be they offseason where a deal gets done, just because of the sheer magnitude of the situation. The Red Sox can go to the Marlins with the organizational surplus mentioned above, and essentially overwhelm them into working out a trade. At some point there will be an offer they can’t refuse, and the Red Sox are in a good position to make it.

There have also been various reports on the potential availability of Jason Heyward. An argument could be made that Heyward is the better fit for the Red Sox, given the enormous right field at Fenway Park and their current lack of left-handed hitters. Heyward would be more useful in this sense because of his increased athleticism and much better defense (34 DRS, 27.8 UZR/150 in 2014) compared to Stanton (6 DRS, 1.4 UZR/150), though he would currently represent less of a power threat at the plate. Heyward would also likely be easier to trade for than Stanton, as he is only a year away from hitting the open market and therefore gives the Braves less trade leverage.

The Red Sox having been setting themselves up for this coming offseason since the trade deadline. Every move has been made to make the team better for 2015, but also to create roster flexibility. Depth is always strength because it creates options and opens doors. The surplus here is incredible, and sets the table for a series of moves to reshape the organization.

Is Rusney Castillo the Next Cuban Phenom in Major League Baseball?

A true centerfielder

After the recent Cuban defectors have represented well in Major League Baseball, the price tag has been driven up for the signing of Cuban defectors who follow Cespedes, Puig, Abreu and others.  With centerfield defense combined with strong offensive production at the Major League level coming at a premium, a player like Rusney Castillo commands as much or more money on his contract, than some of the superstars that have arrived before him.  At age 27, Rusney Castillo is fully developed as a professional baseball player in the Cuban National Series, which makes him a more attractive free agent since teams contending for his rights believe him to be a somewhat proven as a professional baseball player.  While Castillo is unlikely to show off all the same attributes that have allowed players like Cespedes, Puig and Abreu to take the league by storm, he does possess the talent to be an extremely valuable player to a team like the Red Sox that has aspirations of being a playoff contender next season.  With this in mind, a look at the value the Red Sox are getting with Castillo will help to determine where the market has gone for Cuban defectors looking to sign with Major League teams.

Six years and 72 million dollars

After signing Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox plan on getting him into action in the final 35 games of the season, which gives the Red Sox the rights to the Cuban centerfield for six years and parts of a seventh.  For the Major League service time in 2014, Castillo is expected to earn Major League minimum, but over the duration of the contract he is expected to earn an average annual salary that exceeds what Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig are earning on their current contracts.  With neither of those players being everyday centerfielders for their current teams though, the value for what Castillo provides to the Red Sox, is more than a corner outfield regular provides.  The level of play that it takes to become a star as a centerfielder in Major League Baseball is a different standard than what is set as the expectations for a star corner outfielder, so with the tools that Castillo possesses, he could become a star for the Red Sox.  For Castillo, he did very well in the contract negotiations that ultimately got him 72 million dollars over six seasons, because of the stars who came before him and represented Cuban baseball so well.

Can Castillo be an offensive star?

The best way for Rusney Castillo to become an offensive star for the Red Sox would be for him to be a fixture at the top of the Red Sox order throughout the duration of his contract.  As a 27-year-old baseball player, Castillo should be a player that has the veteran ability to make adjustments from game to game in the seasons that he plays in Boston.  In order to be a star at the top of the order, Castillo will need to hit the occasional homerun that ignites his team to start a ballgame, and he will need to be a player that gets on base.  Castillo could add to his stardom by living up to his reputation in the Cuban league as a base stealer, and stealing 40 bases a season in the American League.  Since Castillo already has a strong approach at the plate that helps him to produce line drives to all fields, the Red Sox expect that he will hit for them at the top of the order, but it remains to be seen how often he can get on base via the walk.  Like Puig and Cespedes before him, Castillo is a player that will chase pitches out of the strike zone often enough to create a hole in his swing against low and away breaking pitches.  What will allow Castillo to be an offensive star, would be aggressive approach where he is able to stay back enough to use the whole field along with staying off low off-speed pitches.

Conclusion

Ultimately the tools that Rusney Castillo possess could allow him to be a star in the Major Leagues if he does not try to do too much and just goes out and plays his game.  He is not going to be able to produce at the level that Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen have found consistently over the past few seasons, but he can be one of the better everyday centerfielders in the game.  With the defense that Castillo has put on display, he will likely be a very good defender for the Red Sox in a big centerfield at Fenway Park, and he can make up for his arm strength by getting a good jump on base hits to centerfield with his great speed.  The speed aspect of Castillo’s game will probably be the deciding factor in whether or not he is able to perform like a star at the Major League level because it adds to his defense, base-running and batting average by allowing him to beat out an above average number of infield hits.  The Red Sox contract offer to Castillo has now set a new precedent for contracts given to Cuban stars, and it shows the emphasis that teams are putting on the centerfield position both offensively and defensively.

De La Rosa Becoming Solid Piece for Red Sox

The Red Sox’ unfortunate position in the standings has afforded the team to get a look at their young, homegrown players in an effort to get a read on who can help the team aim to contend in 2015. The team got another good look in their 2-0 sweep-clinching loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, when Rubby De La Rosa turned in one of his strongest starts of the season. While De La Rosa’s initial line (6.2 innings, 8 hits, 2 earned runs, three walks and eight strikeouts) might not be terribly inspiring, most of the damage against him was done in the first two innings. This included a bases-loaded jam that De La Rosa was able to escape without harm and settle in to stifle the Angels offense into the seventh inning. Since his promotion earlier in the season, De La Rosa has made a strong case for himself to be in the Red Sox starting rotation at the beginning of the 2015 season.

De La Rosa is finally starting to show why he was such a highly thought-of prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. De La Rosa spent the offseason working with former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinezon his craft, and all of his hard work has paid off to this point in 2014. De La Rosa has put up 6.69 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, with a .272 average against, 79.7% strand rate, 3.69 ERA and 4.02 xFIP in 78 innings with the big club. The strikeout numbers are down slightly from his career average (career 7.41 K/9), but otherwise that is a solid line across the board, especially for a rookie starter in the American League. Those numbers are right in line with a solid number three starter on a contending rotation.

Another encouraging sign from De La Rosa’s most recent start against the Angels (which Pedro likely had a part in developing) was his ability to make adjustments throughout the start. There was a bit of a rough patch early in the game where the Angels got some good scoring chances, but De La Rosa was able to make the adjustment and settle in through the rest of his start. He made another key adjustment in the seventh, despite not finishing the inning. While dealing with another Angels scoring threat, De La Rosa was able to ramp his fastball up to 97 mph in order to get a key strikeout and limit the threat. This ability to adapt is key to developing into a solid major league starter.

The Red Sox have wisely chosen to use the remainder of the 2014 season to evaluate their roster options for 2015, when the team plans on being competitive. To this point, De La Rosa has taken advantage of the opportunity to show the team he deserves a permanent rotation spot going forward. He has shown the plus stuff, as well as the ability to adjust mid-way through a start. These are things that prove that De La Rosa possesses the ability to improve upon his current numbers, which would be a welcome addition to an unproven pitching staff. Not much is clear for the Red Sox’ 2015 season, but it is clear that Rubby De La Rosa deserves to be in the starting rotation.