Thursday, April 1, 2010

AL East Q&A: Patrick Sullivan

Now we have reached the point in our interview series where we must take a long, hard look at our most hated rivals. While the Yanks went the trade route this offseason, the Red Sox signed four free agents - three starting position players and a starting pitcher -and changed the look of their team significantly.

Here to represent the enemy and make sense of their offseason is Patrick Sullivan from the most excellent Baseball Analysts. Patrick has been writing for BA since 2007 and he was contributing to The House That Dewey Built before Aaron Boone stepped in against Tim Wakefield. He's an OG in this blogging game, so despite the fact that he's a dirty rotten Sawx fan who once went by the moniker "Sully", he deserves our respect. Let's get to it:

Fack Youk: How do you think Lackey, Lester, Beckett, Wakefield/Dice-K and Bucholz stack up against the Yankee quintet of Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez and Hughes?

Patrick Sullivan: It's a great question. I think I would take Boston's for two reasons. The first is that, Wakefield notwithstanding, they're a bit younger. The other reason is that Clay Buchholz has experienced some Big League starting pitching success, something Hughes cannot yet claim. But really, you could throw both teams' top 6 into a hat and assign 3 each randomly to one team and you would still have to squint to determine whose trio was better. I will also say this. I DO put just the tiniest bit of stock into some of the make-up concerns regarding Vazquez. Those things typically aren't my bag, but I think pitching a quarter of his games against Tampa and Boston could take its toll on him. And by "take its toll" I mean he might merely be very good as opposed to a Cy Young candidate.

FY: Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre were the two biggest offensive acquisitions of the offseason but they are best known for their defense (although Cameron's strikeout totals and Beltre's testicle are both pretty legendary). With Jacoby Ellsbury shifting to left and Marco Scutaro manning short, how significant do you expect their improvement in the field will be?

PS: I will leave the quantification of the improvements to others but it's not hard to conclude that the Red Sox made some very significant improvements defensively. Last year the Red Sox had a bad center fielder, bad shortstops, and two of the very worst left fielders and third basemen respectively. This season, they might have gold glove candidates at all four positions. What does that mean in terms of runs saved? Not sure, maybe somewhere on the order of 4-6 wins though?

FY: Judging by some of the reaction in the media, it appears that the Sox placed an increased emphasis on defense at the expense of their offense this offseason. Do you think their decision to allow their opponents to hit during one of their halves of an inning was a wise one?

PS: There are real and interesting concerns for mainstream writers to sink their teeth into regarding Boston's offense. You have Youkilis, Pedroia, Beltre, Scutaro and Cameron who all hit right handed. Victor Martinez is not as good from the left side. Jacoby Ellsbury has no split at all. David Ortiz is a shell of himself. It's only J.D. Drew that poses a bigtime threat to righties for the Red Sox and in a division with Garza, Shields, Niemann, Vazquez, Burnett, Hughes, Tillman, Marcum, etc, that could be a real problem.

What the media will do, however, is make vague references to the Red Sox "struggling" on offense this season. They won't quantify it and they won't talk about it relative to the rest of the league, but instead just float concerns. The narrative goes "oh noes, they lost Jason Bay." What nobody wants to acknowledge is how bad their shortstops were last year and that Scutaro will improve them there, and that a full year from VMart and a little Papi bounce back should just about cover the whole Bay-to-Cameron "downgrade". Hey, I guess you need something to write about.

But let's be clear. This is an excellent offense. Victor Martinez is the 2nd best hitting catcher in the AL. Youkilis was the AL's best offensive first baseman last season and Drew was the best right fielder. Pedroia and Scutaro were top-3. Ellsbury's .354 wOBA would have placed him 5th among left fielders in 2009. So what we're really talking about are Beltre, Cameron and Ortiz. And that's fine. But man it must suck to be a Pirates or Royals or Padres fan and hear Red Sox fans and the Boston media bitch because their three worst hitters are Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and David Ortiz.

FY: Scutaro is 34 years old and has relatively little in the way of experience at shortstop or full seasons worth of plate appearances under his belt. Have the Sox finally found some stability in that position or is he just another flawed stopgap/placeholder for Jose Iglesias? Any hope left for Jed Lowrie?

PS: I don't know. I like the deal because the Red Sox have money, they need to field a shortstop, and Marco was the best out there. In some ways I think Scutaro's lack of experience may work to his advantage given the lack of wear and tear. Looking at it another way, in his only two seasons as a full-timer, 2008 and 2009, he averaged out as a 3.6 win player.

The Red Sox love his defense and think he can hit at an above average level for a SS. And if he doesn't, Lowrie's there. And if he does but Iglesias is pushing him, Scutaro's ability to play second and third make him a terrific super-utility guy in towards the end of that contract.

FY: David Ortiz got off to an incredibly slow start last year, hitting just.185/.286/.283 with one home run through his first 45 games. However, to our dismay, the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated and he accumulated a line of .264/.354/.546 with 27 dingers in his final 105. What should we expect from Papi this year?

PS: I have no idea at all but if I had to take a stab I would peel 30 or 40 points off of his slug over the last 105 games and leave his average and on-base about the same. He'll be about an average designated hitter, I think.

FY: Last year the infamous Mr. Youkilis finished with a higher wOBA than Mark Teixeira (.413 to .402) and despite hitting the DL in May, was worth about a half of a win more than the Yanks' first baseman according to FanGraphs. HOW CAN YOU EXPLAIN THIS OBVIOUS MISCALCULATION/INJUSTICE/TRAVESTY? What are the chances that Youk is more valuable than Teix again this season?

PS: I don't think Kevin Youkilis is better than Mark Teixeira, even though he had a better season in 2009. I'm pretty sure Tex won the World Series, though. One thing I will say is that Youkilis is absurdly overlooked. He's a top-10 hitter and an excellent, versatile fielder and yet I wonder how many out there would consider him among baseball's best players. The Boston media and some fans are in hysterics over the loss of Jason Bay asking who in the lineup is a top-tier hitter. Meanwhile, YOUKILIS IS A BETTER HITTER THAN BAY. It's nuts.

FY: Thoughts on the supposedly impending Beckett extension? Better value than Lackey? Than Burnett?

PS: At the numbers being floated, I would like it. But I have written about this at Baseball Analysts quite a bit this off-season. You need to look at each player on a case by case basis, but the pitcher who excels well into his mid-30's is rare. Carrying two of them - Lackey and Beckett - and having them account for a quarter of the payroll or so annually is a significant risk as I see it. What a possible Beckett deal says to me is that the Red Sox think they'll be getting serious contributions from another wave of cheap youngsters soon. And seriously, Casey Kelly is stupidly awesome so I guess I can't blame them on that front.

As for the latter portion of the question, I think Beckett is better than Lackey, who's better than Burnett. There, I said it.

FY: Will Mike Lowell make it through the season as a Red Sock (I refuse to use Sox as a singular)?

PS: Nah.

FY: Lastly, how will the AL East shakeout when it's all said and done?

PS: No clue at all, but how about, Yanks, Sox (Wild Card), Rays, O's, Jays?

Like most, I think New York, Boston and Tampa, in some order, are the AL's three best teams and maybe the best 3 in all of baseball. I just think the Yankees' offense is superior to Boston's by a greater margin than Boston's pitching and defense are to New York's. So they win by a couple games. The Rays scare the ever living hell out of me.

FY: Sounds about right to me. Thanks for your insight, Patrick.

1 comment:

  1. Lackey better than Burnett? The travesty!