Beyond the Stadium

What Plays Out Beyond the Game

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.

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April 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 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

Their Own Worst Enemy

Pats-broncos B.Marshall

To take nothing away from the late-game fortitude of Kyle Orton and the Denver Broncos, the greatest foe of the New England Patriots in their 20-17 Week 5 loss was…themselves.

Long praised for their defensive prowess and solid fundamentals, the Patriots have suddenly become a mistake-ridden team this season. Some will point to the losses of Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Ellis Hobbs and Mike Vrabel as the reason. While their departures are certainly a factor, it seems to me that Tom Brady and the coaching staff are not providing the leadership they once did.

Brady is no longer the god who terrified defenses around the NFL. He appears hesitant and often out-of-sync with his relievers. Brady-to-Welker is no longer a sure thing, and that in itself is a major problem for the Patriots offense. The quarterback’s frustration is visible, and may be affecting the abilities of his teammates.

Look at some of the errors the Pats made in the final minutes of the game. With 5:27 left in the final quarter, Brandon Meriweather made the huge mistake of taunting Eddie Royal after he sent him out of bounds. The gaffe resulted in a first down and a 1st-and-ten from the 11-yard line—an open invitation for Orton to work his magic.

That was just the beginning. After the Pats regained possession, Brady waited too long on a 2nd-and-eight and had the ball batted out of his hands. During overtime, the Patriots defense looked confused and unorganized as Orton marched down the field. The Broncos were seemingly stopped at the New England 27-yard-line, but another costly error (an offside by Banta-Cain) gave them an extra five yards.

What would have been a tricky 46-yard field goal became a more manageable 41-yarder, and the Broncos rolled to 5-0.

If they want any shot at the playoffs, the Patriots’ defense and Brady alike will have to regain their old confidence. They need to go back to what they do best: making the other team make mistakes.

Click here for game highlights.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Battling Brain Damage

This piece done by 60 Minutes for their Oct. 11 segment compliments my “Stakes Too High?” post concerning the dangers of football injuries. Unfortunately, I am currently unable to upload the full video from the 60 Minutes website. For the full video, click here. Below, I have posted a preview of the piece.


October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Directions

MLK Jr. I have a dream speech

This blog, which I have been keeping track of in various degrees since 2007, has stagnated for far too long. Sports, especially baseball, have been a passion of mine for many years, but I have been unable to translate that interest onto this medium. I am coming to realize that this blog needs a change, and this change will either make or break my efforts here.

Originally, I started this blog as a requirement for a class. Entitled, “Writing for the Web”, the class was one of the most engaging of my college career. I was enticed with the idea of combining so many forms of communication together. On the first day of class, the professor told us we were required to start a blog about the topic of our choosing and make at least three posts a week.

After deciding on sports for a topic, (the internal debate was rather brief) I went about posting. For a while, navigating the blog and monitoring my “Blog Stats” was exciting. Shortly, though, I began to realize that meeting the required number of posts was becoming a drag. I didn’t want to make at least three posts, but did so because I had to. This waning enthusiasm affected my writing and I eventually fell out of love with the entire process.

I kept the blog up and running after the class ended (sort of), but I realize now for all the wrong reasons. I wanted my material to be recognized by some big-time media company; I wanted to be the “Next Big Thing”. Now I see that’s not how you go about doing things at all. Try too hard to do something and you will invariably fail. Instead, you have to (cliche time) do what you absolutely love, and let everything else follow.

So I will let this blog follow–with what I am still unsure. I know I will continue to cover sports here, but now I wish to integrate it with more…weighty topics. An infusion of sports, politics, technology, society, hell even some philosophy here and there. Now that would be refreshing, would be truly Beyond the Stadium. Time to stop dreaming and give this site some new meaning.

October 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Matt Wieters Ready to Hit the Big Leagues

wieters2

The Baltimore Orioles are finally about to give their fans what they wanted.

According to ESPN.com, the Orioles are ready to purchase the contract of 23-year-old catcher Matt Wieters. The heavily anticipated super-prospect is expected to be called up to the Major Leagues on May 29. Wieters will be facing the Detroit Tigers in his debut.

Currently sitting in last place in the American League East with a record of 19-26, the Orioles are looking to bring an offensive spark to the lineup. They have scored the fewest runs in the powerful AL East with 216, and have also surrendered the most runs with 264.

Wieters will be depended on to make an immediate impact in the lineup. In becoming the primary catcher, either Gregg Zaun or Chad Moeller will be cut from the roster.

The cagey veterans Zaun and Moeller have not exactly been lighting the world on fire with their offense. The 38-year-old Zaun is currently sitting on a .216 batting average, with a single homer and four RBI in 35 games. He is a rare example of a player with an OBP greater than his slugging pct. Moeller has not been any better, sporting a .208 batting average and a terrible .240 OBP.

On the other hand, Wieters has been receiving much attention regarding his offensive abilities. He has drawn comparisons to catching great Mike Piazza, and is generally considered the best prospect in all of baseball.

In triple-A this season, Wieters hit .285 with five homers and 26 RBI. He also showed a good eye for the strike zone by walking 19 times in 137 at-bats. Last season, Wieters displayed prodigious power in single and double-A ball, hitting 27 total home runs with a 1.053 OPS.

So, how will Wieters actually do in the majors?

Well, according to the experts at www.baseballprospectus.com, Wieters will put up above-average numbers for a major league catcher. In 297 projected plate appearances, they anticipate him batting a robust .311 with 14 homers and a superb .941 OPS. Now that he is being called up earlier than expected, those numbers could even see some improvement.

At 6’5”, 230 lbs, Wieters is certainly durable enough to take on the challenge of catching at the major league level. He has displayed strong defensive skills behind the plate to complement his bat as well. The biggest challenge for Wieters may be the rotation he will be handed, which can be described as average at best.

Regardless of the impact Wieters makes on the team, there is one thing that can be certain. On Friday, May 29, baseball fans and managers alike will turn their heads to Baltimore.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment