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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Monday
Sep232013

Chemistry Makes a Most Valuable Team

When there is discussion about AL MVP candidates, do you notice you don't hear any of the Red Sox being mentioned? Isn't it odd that the team that has the best record in baseball, does not have one of the players you might consider as the lower case most valuable player in the league?

In fact, if you ask 10 people who they thought is the most valuable Red Sox player, you'd get probably a half-dozen different responses.
But, consensus on the Sox MVP would be very difficult...because it's better to have a Most Valuable Team than a Most Valuable Player.

Perhaps that's why they are so good

As baseball moves away from outrageous seasons developed in a pharmaceutical lab, teams are seeing the value of chemistry coming from a psychologist's lab.

This is what motivated Ben Cherington as he cleansed this team of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez and replaced them with the like of Jonny Gomes and David Ross. The difference is best exemplified as Boston moved from the detached J.D. Drew to the involvement and engagement of his brother, Stephen Drew.

The team contributes

There are only two teams that have 11 different players who drove home at least 35 runs this season.

While you're thinking of the other obvious choice, check out the Red Sox numbers:

The Boston Red Sox 35 RBI Guys
G AB H HR RBI
David Ortiz (BOS) 133 502 154 29 98
Mike Napoli (BOS) 136 487 125 23 90
Dustin Pedroia (BOS) 156 623 186 9 83
Stephen Drew (BOS) 120 424 106 13 64
Daniel Nava (BOS) 130 441 131 11 63
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (BOS) 117 410 109 13 59
Shane Victorino (BOS) 119 463 136 14 58
Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 131 566 169 8 52
Jonny Gomes (BOS) 113 302 72 12 50
Will Middlebrooks (BOS) 89 325 75 15 42
Mike Carp (BOS) 82 208 62 9 42

The other team shouldn't be a surprise

This offseason, there was another team that recreated itself with chemistry as the focal point.

Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti knew that the first thing he needed to do was hire Terry Francona as his manager. If there was anyone who could quickly change the culture of this ballclub, Tito was the guy.

“We would not be where we are without Tito,” Antonetti recently told Tyler Kepner in the NY Times. “The impact he’s made on our organization — not just the major league team — has been profound.”

Francona told Kepner, “I get a little careful when they say I’m changing the culture, or being responsible for that. I want to be a part of that, but it’s us doing it together. It’s a complete team effort, and that’s why it’s working.”

Antonetti began looking for the same type of players that Cherington was seeking: guys who could make a difference, not just on the field, but in the clubhouse as well.

One of the guys the Tribe added was 42-year old Jason Giambi, who was being considered for the Colorado Rockies managerial job that Walt Weiss ended up. Francona told Kepner that he had never met a person like Jason Giambi.

“His leadership, his presence, for me not to use that, I would be an idiot. I’ve leaned on him so much. He’s not making enough money, I tell him that all the time. He’s the best influence on players I’ve ever seen — ever, and I’ve been around some pretty good ones.”

Giambi, who will make a great manager sooner than later told Tyler,

“Every single guy — from the Latin players to the white guys to the black guys — I’m tight with everybody. I get to care about them with no ulterior motives. I just want to see them succeed. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I want them to turn into the best players they can, because I truly believe that’s the gift you give back to this game.”

The Tribe 11

The Cleveland Indians 35 RBI Guys
G AB H HR RBI
Jason Kipnis (CLE) 143 541 150 17 80
Carlos Santana (CLE) 148 518 138 19 69
Michael Brantley (CLE) 145 529 148 9 68
Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) 130 484 117 14 61
Nick Swisher (CLE) 139 524 130 20 59
Ryan Raburn (CLE) 80 225 62 16 53
Michael Bourn (CLE) 126 513 133 6 48
Mark Reynolds (CLE) 129 428 94 20 65
Mike Aviles (CLE) 118 339 87 9 44
Drew Stubbs (CLE) 141 421 97 9 42
Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE) 92 287 65 11 36

Two teams - both most valuable

“I think I believe in them more than our numbers,” Francona explained. “Like, our numbers may not add up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t add up. And I think that as long as we believe that, we’re going to have a chance.”

I'm with Terry.

Chemistry makes a Most Valuable Team.
Friday
Sep062013

Koji Uehara's Unhittable Splitter

Koji Uehara is 38 years old, needs a strong gust of wind at his back to crack 90 MPH on the radar gun and is the third-highest -paid reliever on the Boston Red Sox. He's also eviscerating hitters. Uehara boasts the sixth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (9.67) ever among relievers tossing 60+ innings in a season, and his park-and-league adjusted ERA is 269 percent above average -- that's 12th best all-time among 'pen arms.

While he doesn't have Aroldis Chapman's gas or Craig Kimbrel's wipepout slider, Uehara might just possess the nastiest pitch in the game in his splitter. The right-hander throws his tumbling, low-80s split nearly half of the time (47 percent of his total pitches), transforming opposing lineups into a fleet of weak-hitting pitchers in the process. When Uehara unleashes a splitter, opponents are batting .101 and slugging .193. The last time a hitter managed an extra-base hit against the pitch was nearly three weeks ago, when Lyle Overbay laced a double in a loss to the Sox on August 17.

Here's more on Uehara's splitter, as the Sox stopper looks to vanquish the Yankees' slim playoff chances...

  • Part of what makes Uehara's splitter so deadly is that the pitch tails in on righties (away from lefties) much like his fastball, but it then drops off the table. On average, Uehara's splitter and fastball both have about 5-6 inches of horizontal break compared to a pitch thrown without spin. But there's a big difference in vertical break: Uehara's fastball "rises" nearly a foot compared to a spinless pitch, while his splitter rises just 4-5 inches. Imagine having milliseconds to figure out whether Uehara is tossing you a tailing, high-80s fastball up in the zone, or a tailing, low-80s split that proceeds to plummet like a wasp that got whacked by a Sunday newspaper.

To help you visualize hitters' conundrum, here's a graphic showing the break and velocity of Uehara's fastball (the yellow-orange cluster on top) and his splitter (the green-blue cluster).

Pitch velocity and movement of Uehara's fastball and splitter

  • Uehara has lured hitters into chasing his splitter off the plate nearly half of the time (48% chase rate), which ranks behind only St. Louis' Edward Mujica (51%) among relievers. Lefty batters would need a boat oar to reach some of the Uehara splitters that they're swinging at:

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Uehara's splitter

  • Uehara has generated swings and misses 44% of the time with his splitter, highest among all relievers.
  • While Uehara has registered 51 of his 87 strikeouts with his splitter, he uses his split as more than a put-away pitch. Uehara has thrown his signature offering about 37% of the time in first-pitch counts, and to great effect. Opponents are batting .143 and slugging .286 versus Uehara's first-pitch splitters.
Thursday
Sep052013

Can Boston Handle Nova's Low Heat?

Historically, Red Sox hitters have tagged Ivan Nova. The Yankees righty takes the mound  tonight having allowed a career .298 batting average, a .375 on-base percentage and a .430 slugging percentage against the Sox, essentially turning the average Boston batter into Dustin Pedroia circa 2013.

This time could be different, though. The Red Sox have yet to take on the 2013 version of Nova, who has transformed from one of the most homer-prone starting pitchers in the game last season (1.5 home runs allowed per nine innings in 2012) to one if its stingiest with the long ball. With 0.41 home runs surrendered per nine frames, Nova trails just Francisco Liriano (0.34 HR/9), Matt Harvey (0.35), Jhoulys Chacin (0.37) and Clayton Kershaw (0.39) in homer rate among starters throwing 100-plus innings.

Nova has slashed his home run total by pounding hitters at the knees with his fastball, generating lots of weak grounders rather than majestic souvenirs. Boston, however, thrives against knee-high heaters. Who will prevail tonight when a resurgent Nova takes on Boston's low-ball sluggers?

In 2012, Ivan Nova had about as much success with his fastball as Charlie Brown. He served up 14 home runs and allowed batters to slug .597 against his fastball -- only soft-tossers Chris Capuano, Jake Westbrook, Bronson Arroyo and Bruce Chen got hit harder. This year, though? Nova has allowed only three homers off his fastball, and he has an opponent slugging percentage (.398) that's comfortably below the major league average for starting pitchers (.442) in 2013.

Keeping his fastball low has been key for Nova. Check out his fastball location last year, and then in 2013:

Nova's fastball location, 2012

novafastballloc12

Nova's fastball location, 2013

novafastballloc13

He located about 29 percent of his fastballs to the lower third of the strike zone in 2012, but he has bumped that figure up to 40 percent this year. You might also notice that Nova is throwing many of those low fastballs to his arm side (about 57 percent of his low fastballs have been thrown to his arm side this year, up from just 31 percent in 2012).

Throwing more low, arm-side heat, Nova has increased his ground ball rate with his fastball from a league average 44 percent in 2012 to 54 percent. The only AL starters burning worms more often with their fastball are Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, Joe Saunders and Derek Holland.

Nova's new fastball approach will be tested against the Sox, who have collectively cranked 16 home runs against low heat (fourth-most in the majors) and slugged an MLB-best .505. David Ortiz (.726 slugging percentage vs. low fastballs), Mike Napoli (.659), Pedroia (.536) and Daniel Nava (.500) have done the most damage when pitchers throw low gas. Will Big Papi (a career .308/.400/.615 hitter in 15 PA versus Nova) continue to own Nova, or will the new-look Yankee scorch the earth against the Sox? Stay tuned.

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