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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Monday
Jun172013

B. Chuck: The Offensive Red Sox Season

With all the talk about the effect that John Farrell's return to the Red Sox would have on the Boston pitching staff, so far it's been highly over-rated.

The Sox are seventh in the league with a team ERA of 3.84. Their starters are fourth in the league with a 3.79 ERA and their bullpen is 11th in the AL with a 3.94 ERA.

The key to the success of the Red Sox this season have been their bats and credit for that certainly needs to go to hitting coach Gregg Colbrunn and his assistant, Victor Rodriguez (and very high marks to GM Ben Cherington who has put together a terrific assortment of "chemists").

Serious Offense

  • The Red Sox lead the majors 363 runs scored.
  • They are tied with the Orioles with 155 doubles, the most in the majors.
  • They are tied with the Rays and Indians with 80 homers, the sixth most in the majors.
  • They are second to the A's, 277 to 273 walks.
  • They are second to the Padres, 61 to 57 steals.
  • They are second to the Cards, 205 to 184 hits with runners in scoring position.
  • They are tied for second in the AL with the A's with bases loaded hits, but lead the majors with 66 bases loaded RBI.
  • The Sox are tied with the Tigers for the league lead with a .285 June batting average.
  • They lead the AL 156 June hits, 13 more than the A's who are in second place.
  • They lead the AL with 23 June homers
  • They lead the AL with 88 RBI, 28 more than the Jays who are second with 60 ribbies.

The Individual Plusses

One of the other keys to the Red Sox offensive success is the variety of players who have been hot at different times throughout the season.

 

  • For example, while the Sox and the Phillies only have four homers each from the number three slot in the batting order, the fewest in baseball, the Sox have Dustin Pedroia who's hitting .319, the best of any #3 in the AL not named Miguel Cabrera.
  • And they have David Ortiz who has driven home 14 runs in June, the most in the AL, despite a .220 batting average.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury, in his walk year, has been running. He's tied with Everth Cabrera for the MLB lead with 31 steals and tied with Mike Trout for the AL lead in triples with six.
  • Mike Napoli has been an RBI machine providing clutch hits, particularly in the early going.
  • Don't forget the great fielding Jose Iglesias who has a 17-game hitting streak, the longest for any rookie this season, and is hitting .438 in 99 PA this season.
  • Daniel Nava is one of the great "who's thats?" of this season, but is deserving of some AL All-Star write-in votes. Nava is hitting .288 on the season and his 44 RBI are third on the team to Ortiz' and Napoli's 49, but 24 of the RBI have come from the 7th inning on and Nava leads the majors in that category. His 38 RBI as an outfielder puts him eight among all MLB outfielders. And, his .378 OBP ranks 10th among all outfielders (he has a .383 OBP overall).
  • Mike Carp has hit eight homers in 105 AB and is slugging .686 to go with his .324 BA.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .271 overall and improving behind the plate and the switch-hitter is hitting .303 as a lefty.

 

So, through an assortment of pieces the Red Sox have put together three strong first months of the season.

But is that enough to get them through the year?

Tomorrow, I look at the minuses of the Boston ball club, starting with the starting pitching.

Monday
Jun032013

Clay Buchholz is on the verge

The key for a great pitcher, or at least a great season for a pitcher, is consistency.

Arm motion, release points, and mechanics in general that can be repeated over and over, pitch by pitch, inning by inning, game by game leads to greatness. Boston's Clay Buchholz is on the verge...again.

Clay has had good streaks before, as recently as last season.

In 11 starts from May 27 to August 10, he was brilliant

Over that time period, Buchholz started 11 games, he went 6-1 and a very bad Sox team went 8-3. He threw 82.1 innings and had an ERA of 2.08, a BAA of .204, and struck out 59 while walking just 15.

So far this season, Buchholz has been even better

He has started 11 games and gone 8-0 and the team is 10-1 in his starts. He's thrown 77.2 innings and has a sparkling ERA of 1.62, a BAA of .190, and struck out 77 while walking 28.

The cutter is the key

Buchholz primarily throws four pitches: fastball, cutter, curve, and change, and occasional splitter.

But when Buchholz is throwing his cutter well, everything is working as it particularly helps his fastball.

5/27 to 8/10/2012

  • Total pitches thrown 1148
  • Fastball 46.1% - .227 BAA
  • Cutter 19.1% - .155 BAA 

2013 to date

  • Total pitches thrown 1141
  • Fastball 48.4% - .209 BAA
  • Cutter 22.4% - .117 BAA

Frame of Reference

Before the 2012 hot streak

3/28 to 5/26/2012

  • Total pitches thrown 864
  • Fastball 45.8% - .337 BAA
  • Cutter 21.3% - .333 BAA

As you can see, when Buchholz lets that cutter drift up and into the zone, the pitch loses its effectiveness. And when the cutter drifts, the fastball looks very similar and there for easier to hit. 

The Sox just delayed a Buchholz turn on the mound and it will be interesting to see if they give him additional days in between starts as the summer wears on. If consistency is key, the slight Buchholz must battle the fatigue that causes inconsistency.

However, if Clay Buchholz continus to do what he has been doing thus far this season, not only will he be the presumptive Cy Young Award winner, but he will lead the Red Sox back to the postseason promised land. He's on the verge.

Sunday
May262013

Peter Gammons: On the shoulders of Ellsbury, Kemp and Gonzalez

Don Mattingly this weekend came out and stated what teammates, opposing players and managers understood—that Matt Kemp has not yet fully recovered from off-season reconstructive surgery. Two home runs and 17 on the morning of May 25 says it all about the 2011. 

Kemp hasn't whined or complained, but Mattingly told Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times. “He’s frustrated. The biggest thing we want to do with Matt is to try to keep the bat in the strike zone longer…when he’s going good he’s driving the ball to center, to right-center…I notice he’s cutting his swing off…if he’s top-spinning in left and left-center field, it tells me he’s getting extension to a certain point and he’s coming off just a little bit.”

Mattingly is not an orthopedic surgeon, but he is a PhD when it comes to hitting. Kemp has the finest in orthopedic care from Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Center. While Dr. ElAttrache cannot discuss the specifics of Kemp’s recovery, he fully understands the complex significance of the shoulder in hitters.

“The importance of the shoulder in hitting is underestimated,” says Dr. ElAttrache. “What is particularly important is the lead shoulder.” Kemp missed nearly two months of the 2012 season with hamstring pulls and other issues, but on August 28 he suffered his most significant injury when he crashed into a fence in Colorado, He continued to play the rest of the season, but after the Dodgers were eliminated he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and some minor damage to the rotator cuff.

The labrum tear was in the front of his left shoulder, the lead shoulder as a righthanded hitter. Mattingly adds that Kemp will return to his star level once he’s healthy; Kemp loves the limelight, but he is one of the rare players who accepts every thing that goes along with stardom. But “health” is far more complex than weeks of rehab and training following labrum surgery.

“Trying to re-establish ones mechanics after surgery is a complex process,” says Dr. ElAttrache, speaking generally. “It’s extremely delicate. It involves rebuilding strength, and all that goes into the swing from the front shoulder. It takes perfect mechanics to regain bat speed and the swing path. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes more.

“A player may think he is fully recovered, especially after all the work that rehab entails, but regaining the mechanics doesn’t come easily,” says the doctor. “Sometimes we can see a hitter opening up too quickly. He may step out with his front foot to catch up to pitches, and also so he doesn’t have to finish off his swing, which puts a great deal of pressure on the shoulder, especially the front of the lead shoulder.

“Sometimes those mechanics can be just a tick off, and they are hard to re-establish. I’m certain there are cases where the should is never exactly the same as before an injury or the gradual wearing down process. It is mechanical. It can be mental. For the hitter, a shoulder injury isn’t really any different that a shoulder injury can be for a pitcher.”

Adrian Gonzalez

Kemp’s rehab is obvious, and well-explained by Mattingly. But there are other cases that at least are worth a look.

One is Adrian Gonzalez. He had three remarkable seasons his last three years at Petco Park, averaging 32 homers. In 2009, he hit 40 homers with a .958 OPS. His lead shoulder had bothered him in 2010, and he had labrum surgery prior to being traded to the Red Sox, and after continuing his rehab process in spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., his numbers leading up to the All Star Break (.354, 17 HR, 1.006 OPS, .591 slug) not only got him to the game, but into the Home Run Derby.

However, after the break, Gonzalez was not the same power hitter. He batted .317 with 10 homers, but more significant, his slugging fell to .489, his OPS to .893. Some suggested that he had worked so hard to be ready for the season—and, yes, get a new contract deal struck during spring training—that he wore down and the shoulder lost some of its strength. He denied it, continually saying that he simply got mechanically out of whack. Because of that, he sometimes tried to look for pitches and got himself out of sorts.

Look at AGon's numbers through May 25, before and after:

Gonzalez has never offered physical excuses, only opined that he gets mechanically unturned. However, is that related to the lead shoulder never being the same? We may never know, and playing 81 games in Dodger Stadium and another 18 in Petco and Pac Bell parks do not help any power numbers. And Dr. ElAtracche points out that the aging process historically impacts power, save for a ten-year window from the mid-nineties until the imposition of mandatory drug-testing in 2005. In addition, with the schedule as erratic as it is now with few getaway day games, the banning of amphetamines has led to a lot of grumbling about the maintence of energy levels that players in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties never had to worry about.

Jacoby Ellsbury

In Boston, there is the concern about the power numbers of Jacoby Ellsbury. Anyone who watched him take batting practice when he came up in 2007 saw some eye-opening power displays. Hitting coach Dave Magadan, when asked in 2007 if Ellsbury might someday turn into a (healthy) Grady Sizemore, always said that his timing took a lot of work and that there was just a tick’s difference between getting jammed by fastballs and hitting infield grounders and launching balls as he often did in BP.

It all came together for Ellsbury in 2011, when he arguably was the American League’s most valuable player:  32 homers; he’d never hit as many as 10 in a pro season. 83 extra base hits.

But on April 12, 2012, he suffered a separated right shoulder—the lead shoulder-- when Rays shortstop Reid Brignac landed atop of him as he slid into second base. Ellsbury played in only 74 games, he had 22 extra base hits, his slugging dropped from .552 to .370.

At no time since he reported for spring training has Ellsbury made excuses about any residual effects from the separated shoulder. He has handled his impending free agency with the ultimate professionalism and tried to stay away from any first person pronoun material.

The decline in on base percentage and slugging could well be mechanical, which has eroded confidence in his ability to hit deep in counts and stay back and drive pitches. On this past road trip, the Red Sox staff felt he was starting to once again launch in batting practice, a sign they felt was encouraging, especially since his best months historically have come after 

Still, one wonders about the mechanical, physical and psychological aspects of Ellsbury’s swing, based on these numbers:

Never underestimate the complexities of the mechanics of hitting,” says Dr. ElAttrache. “Especially when dealing with the lead shoulder.”

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