Beyond the Stadium

What Plays Out Beyond the Game

Adrian Beltre: Slayer of Outfielders

It happened again.

Just when the Red Sox outfielders thought it was safe to make plays near the infield, Adrian Beltre emerged from third to strike down another victim.

After being diagnosed with five fractured ribs, Jeremy Hermida was sent to the DL to give the much maligned Jacoby Ellsbury some company.

The club may be joking about  Beltre’s cold proficiency with eliminating teammates, but the issue is getting pretty serious. Even with one of the best medical staffs around, the Sox doctors have been accused of botching Ellsbury’s recovery from his own Beltre encounter on April 11.

With Hermida’s rib injury, the Sox are sure to be extra careful. Though he may not have been giving opposing pitchers nightmares with his .217 average, Hermida was a valuable piece in the outfield. With him gone, Boston finds itself sending out such all-stars as Bill Hall and Josh Reddick.

As several Sox players have mentioned, the strangest part of these two injuries is how similar they were. It may just be a coincidence, but those type of collisions are pretty rare.

This leads a fan such as myself into the land of speculation. Does Beltre ignore outfielders who call him off? Does he not care about the threat of injury to himself or others? Is he a Terminator?

Regardless of the true reason, Beltre seems to be trying very hard to redeem his destructive ways. He is one of the most productive hitters in the lineup this season, batting well over .300 and already matching his 2009 homer total with eight.

The Sox can only hope that the oft-injured J.D. Drew does not come down with a big injury. As it is, Mike Cameron is playing though pain and the Sox bench is almost on empty. Luckily for Drew and Cameron, they shouldn’t be playing anywhere near left field this season.

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June 12, 2010 Posted by | strange stories | 1 Comment

Joe West Out of Line With Sox-Yanks Series Comment

In baseball, the umpires are looked upon to make the tough calls. They know many of their decisions will be hated by some and loved by others. So for Joe West, a seasoned ump with 32 years of major league experience, his latest decision should have been a no-brainer.

He should have kept his mouth shut.

Unfortunately, West did just the opposite. He let his mouth run, and let fly some nasty comments about the Red Sox and the Yankees.

According to West, “They’re [Red Sox and Yankees] the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace,” and that “It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.”

To an extent, West is correct. Boston and New York have become somewhat infamous for their extra-long, extra-tense contests throughout the season. Their average game time is often higher than the rest of the league. According to an article from ESPN Boston, the average major league game ran for 2:55. Sox-Yankees encounters clocked in at 3:40.

However, to call the teams’ play “pathetic and embarrassing” is, well, pathetic and embarrassing. These teams are two of the most competitive and well-respected in all of baseball, and have been for decades. They are many things, but an embarrassment to the game of baseball they most certainly are not.

Players from both teams are understandably upset. Boston’s Napoleonic second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, was very vocal about his displeasure over the comments. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera also commented on West’s remarks as well.

There are  good reasons these games last so long besides wanting to bother West’s delicate schedule. First, both teams are excellent at stocking their lineups with players who work the count and find themselves on base. In 2009, the Yankees had the best OBP in baseball, at .362. The Sox came in second in that category at .352. The league average was nearly 20 points lower, coming in at .335. Hmm, does this lead anyone to believe that patience at the plate leads to wins?

If this is the case, and the Sox and Yankees share a winning formula, than West has no business criticizing how they play. Limiting player mound visits? Sure. Cutting back on the glove-fixing, shoe tapping, face twitching theatrics outside the batters’ box? Go for it. But telling the players not to work the count? That just sounds silly.

For all the truth there was to his statement, it was one West never should have made publicly. Umpires are impartial mediators of  the game, defenders of the rules and regulations. It is not their job to openly take shots against one or more teams. If he had such a burning hatred for lengthy A.L. East match-ups, he should have kept quiet and submitted a complaint to Mike Port, the V.P. of umpiring.

Instead, West will likely be fined for his words. His apparent bias might also force his bosses to stop him from calling games in New York or Boston.

If he really had somewhere important to go during the series, he should have left. After 32 years in the business, he should know where the door is.

April 10, 2010 Posted by | strange stories | Leave a comment

Beckett Throws a Curve, Takes Hometown Discount

The Red Sox pulled quite a rabbit out of their financial hat on Monday, locking up pitcher Josh Beckett with a four-year, $68 million deal.

I must admit, I was very surprised to hear they worked out such an economical deal. When Boston inked  former Angel John Lackey to a much more luxurious five-year, $82.5 million deal, it was easy to assume Beckett would be gone. The Sox had also spent considerable money beefing up the defense on Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro. If would have been tough to blame Theo and Co. if they chose to part ways with Beckett.

In the end, though, the Sox saw an opportunity that was hard to pass up. By securing Beckett, the Sox have command of four premium pitchers (Beckett, Lackey, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) through the 2014 season. To make matters better (how rare!), Lackey is the only one of the four who is on the wrong side of 30.

Looking around the league, it is tough to find another club that can boast such rotational security. The Rays have a strong young rotation, to be sure, but do not have four starters locked up for that amount of time. In an era where pitching contracts are still recession-proof, the Sox have pulled off a nearly impossible round of negotiations.

As to the deal itself, it would seem to be fairly safe. Beckett is somewhat prone to injuries and can fall into some ugly slumps, but has been a workhorse overall. In four seasons with Boston, Beckett has failed to reach 200 innings pitched in only one of them (2008).

In his first season with the Sox, Beckett posted a pretty ugly 5.01 ERA and recorded “only” 158 strikeouts. Since then, his K/9 rate has stayed comfortably above 8 as he struck out more than 190 batters in 2007 and 2009. He has also kept his walk rate down, and had a Roy Halladay-esque K/BB ratio of 5.06 in his 2008 campaign. Finally, Beckett has been amazingly consistent in keeping his WHIP under 1.2.

This smattering of numbers indicates that, while he may not be trending upward, Beckett is in no danger of a sudden regression. He does not benefit greatly from luck, as his BABIP has stayed close to .300 the last three seasons. Barring any serious blister problems or other random catastrophes, the Red Sox should see an even return on their Beckett investment.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s in a Medal?

I have always found the Olympics, whether winter or summer, to be immensely entertaining for one reason: It’s sense of unity. Countries from across the world forget the political nonsense hovering over them and join in a celebration of skill. For a few short weeks we remember how fun and rewarding something as simple as a game can be.

That is why the issue of medals is so distracting. Canada invested millions of dollars in an effort to “Own the Podium”. They burned resources that could have been used elsewhere and treated foreign athletes unfairly. Everything became about who had the better skis and most aerodynamic suits.

When it became clear Canada would not claim the most medals, the success of the United States  shifted from enjoyable to boastful. Suddenly, American athletes have begun mocking Canada and flaunting their own prowess. No performance matters for viewers unless a gold medal comes along with it. Americans have begun to miss the point of the Olympic Games.

In truth, medals should be far from the top of the list of concerns for competing countries. The sheer joy and excitement of participating in such a massive event is reward enough for most of the athletes there. It takes just as much courage to shrug off a crash and come back in another event as it does to win a gold and be expected to repeat.

So I say forget about the rampant patriotism. Start focusing on the amazing stories many of the foreign athletes have. Savor an American (or Canadian, or German, or whoever) victory,  but don’t lament when an underdog country digs out a victory. The Olympics is about loving the celebrations, the surprises, and the crazy performances that happen along the way.

So I say; Go World.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | , , | Leave a comment

Pitchers and Catchers: The True Sign of Spring

Forget about Punxsutawney Phil. Forget about the whole “six more weeks of winter” nonsense. Spring is here, heralded by the arrival of the first batch of pitchers and catchers.

With these players come the first wave of new baseball rumors, speculation, injury reports and unnecessary votes of confidence. Fantasy baseball roars back to life and friends/bitter rivals begin to ponder their keepers and tinker with draft lists. What more could a baseball fan want?

Personally, I look forward to this day just as much as the season opener. Players are eager to talk about the season, even those who ended theirs in a flaming-car-wreck fashion. It seems as though they, along with the general staff, are still loose and not yet in “season mode”.

The A.L. East alone provides its own cacophony of topics. Here is a mere smattering  of the stories that will unfold during Spring Training:

The saga that is the Red Sox rotation.

Boston already had the potential for the next Big Three (Beckett, Buchholz and Lester). The addition of John Lackey serves to make the rotation even more imposing and versatile. The issue is not with these aces, but with who is going to lock up the fifth spot.

One option is the ever-present Tim Wakefield, who is eternally underrated. Though he has stated he is happy with the Sox, he has also been clear about his animosity towards a backup role.

The other candidate, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is a story unto himself. He recently revealed his battle with “upper back soreness” to the media, furthering his reputation as a less-than-forthcoming player.

The youth movement in the Tampa Bay camp.

Like the other teams in the A.L. East, the Rays rely on young, skilled players to succeed. Their average age of 27.6 may not be the lowest, but they have no players over the age of 35. Their young pitching staff needs to prove it can handle the rigors of a full season (especially David Price and James Shields, the latter of whom faltered slightly in his ’09 campaign).

Another issue is who to place at second base and right field. Locking down Ben Zobrist at second would help him focus on his batting but would also decrease his incredible contributions at other positions.

Life after Halladay for the Blue Jays.

Even with Roy Halladay, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last season, the Jays had no chance of hanging with the heavy hitters in the A.L. East. Ricky Romero logged some impressive performances early in the year, but faltered later in the season with ERA’s over five in both August and September. Scott Richmond recently came down with a shoulder injury, setting him behind in his training. The bullpen is shaky as well, with Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg showing some inconsistency.

        Of course, many analysts have pegged the Yankees as the team to beat (surprise, surprise). Their success, though, depends on the ability of their superior offense to overcome some two tough pitching staffs in Boston and Tampa Bay.

        So much can change during the course of Spring Training, which is exactly why this time of year is so exciting. So let the (exhibition) games begin, and may we forget about Phil’s shadowy prediction.

        February 19, 2010 Posted by | Big Events | Leave a comment

        New Premium on Pitching

        There was a time when people believed Major League Baseball was immune to the ebb and flow of the economy. It was only a matter of time, though, before this Great Recession showed us that even America’s great institution was not invulnerable. After this off-season, a new truth has appeared to emerge: Only MLB pitchers are immune to the economy.

        Tim Lincecum is the latest in a long string of pitchers to sign a lucrative contract during the winter months. The lanky 25-year-old pocketed a two-year, $23 million dollar deal that is loaded with extra incentives.

        Twenty-something phenoms Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez recently earned contracts of $80 million and $78 million, respectively. Both deals are of the five year variety, locking them into their clubs throughout their prime.

        The Red Sox kicked off the sign-an-ace-to-a-huge-deal trend with the surprise inking of John Lackey in December. Lackey, 31, netted a 5-year, $82.5 million deal that set the tone for pitchers looking to sign.

        Deals like these are hinting at a new strategy in the baseball world of “pitch first, score runs later.” The days of one-dimensional sluggers grabbing bajillion dollar deals seem to be, if not ending, certainly slowing down.

        Players like Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, who several years ago would have had money thrown at them, are both ardently searching for employment. At this point it would be surprising if Damon got more than a one-year deal. Yes, both these players are 36 years old, but that never stopped desperate teams in the past.

        With teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees boasting strong rotations front-to-back, other teams have realized the importance of young, reliable pitching. Position players with a spark in their bat can be found all over baseball, but a pitcher who can lead their team for years is a rarity that cannot be passed up.

        February 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

        Enough of The Tiger Talk

        We all know the basic story, or at least we think we do: Tiger Woods recently crashed his shiny Escalade into a fire hydrant and a tree right outside his posh mansion.

        From there though, things grow far more convoluted. Depending on who you ask, Tiger was assaulted by an enraged, golf-club-equipped wife, calling his attention-grabbing cocktail waitress mistress, attacked by vicious aliens or other such insanity. All of a sudden, women are coming out of the woodwork claiming sultry affairs with the golf star. News outlets are covering the story with such haughty condescension, you’d think Woods murdered his entire neighborhood with his car.

        How is it, with pressing issues from health care and war in Afghanistan to the fight for same-sex marriage, that Americans are so easily sucked into such nonsense? Millions were badly fooled by the “balloon boy” yet, hardly a month later are willing to fall for the same junk headlines.

        People are outraged (outraged!) that Tiger was only hit for a $164 fine and four points off his record. Apparently he should have to come clean with every gory detail and be summarily jailed for the next 43 years. The thing is, the general public has no right to learn all about his car accident. If Susie Homemaker crashed her Toyota into a tree tomorrow, no one would be clamoring to know why.

        Tiger Woods is a public figure and therefore prone to much more scrutiny than the average citizen, but there has to be a limit on how much we can pry. It may come as a surprise, but not even Tiger is perfect. Unless the investigation turns criminal, he does not need to divulge a single fact about the accident.

        Don’t get me wrong: I am not defending Woods. He is a grown (and absurdly wealthy) man who is fully capable of taking care of himself. I only wish to see stories like this taken out of “serious” news programs and kept where they belong–in seedy tabloids at your local supermarket.

        December 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

        Out Sick: How Will the Swine Flu Impact Pro Sports?

        With President Obama’s declaration of swine flu as a national emergency, anxiety about H1N1 has only escalated. People are lining up to get the vaccine, and shortages are not helping the problem.  As the disease spreads across the world, how will the sports world be impacted?

        It would appear that sporting events this winter are prime locations for H1N1 to spread. Large groups of people, many of them young, are packed together in an enclosed space during peak flu season. Athletes, who are so often seen as invulnerable to world events, are also coming down with flu-like symptoms left and right.

        In response to the pandemic, Paris has already cancelled one soccer match. Teams are being forced to cancel practices and are playing games shorthanded. The NFL has already begun addressing the issue by allowing relief to flu-stricken teams.

        Clearly, the sports world is not ignorant to the threat of H1N1. However, as we wade further into to flu season, how prudent will it be to host large sporting events? France’s cancellation may only be the beginning–cancelled games could spread as fast as H1N1 itself.

        Despite lost revenue and disappointed fans, taking the safe side is definitely the smarter course of action. Until vaccination production can fully meet demands, teams should consider how important their games really are.

        October 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment