The Red Sox Hire Pedro Martinez To…Um….Do Stuff(?)

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If a baseball organization is viewed as a small society, then the resident sociopath of Red Sox Nation from 2000 through 2008 was Manny Ramirez. Manny continually received passes for his baseball-related crimes of propriety and decorum because, when he wanted to be, he was an unstoppable force at the plate. On a lesser scale, the moderate troublemaker—i.e. the person who bent the rules and was allowed to bend the rules because the nation couldn’t function without him—was Pedro Martinez.

In terms of on-field contributions to the club, Pedro was more valuable than Manny was because he was all but impossible to replace when he was in his heyday. Pedro was unhittable for the majority of a six year period from 1998-2003 and almost singlehandedly carried mostly pedestrian teams to the playoffs in 1998, 1999 and even 2003. When he began to fade, he was still very good but not worth the money he was demanding as a free agent after the 2004 season—ironically the first year in his tenure when he was a background performer and they won the World Series.

The Red Sox didn’t sign him to an extension and let him leave as a free agent to the Mets. As it turned out, this was wise. In some respects, there was relief that he was gone. The relief wasn’t on a level of “finally” as it was when the club had had enough of Manny and traded him away at mid-season 2008, but it made the franchise’s life easier not to have to endure the behind-the-scenes, passive aggressive tantrums Pedro threw on a regular basis by showing up to spring training late; saying stupid things publicly about how the organization disrespected him; contract complaints; media dustups; and simultaneously proud, arrogant and insecure reactions to the concept that Curt Schilling was replacing him as the team ace. It certainly benefited them not having to pay for three years of diminishing effectiveness and stints on the disabled list while clinging to sway for what he was.

Manny made the Red Sox work environment uncomfortable, but because he was so productive the team let him get away with petulance, laziness, fake injuries, and disrespect to authority figures. It was only when he turned to violence with the traveling secretary that enough was enough and he was moved.

It’s not out of the realm to wonder whether the hiring of Pedro would be similar to hiring Manny. Both were difficult to deal with and left on bad terms. Neither ever put forth the image of a person who had any interest in working in a front office. Manny’s transgressions were far worse, but they were in the same context. This week, Pedro was named the special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. What that undefined job entails is anyone’s guess. Do they want him to actually do anything? Is Pedro going to guide young players? Or is this to garner some positive press with a link to the club’s glory days as a reaction to the skeletons and scars being dragged out and sliced open in public with Terry Francona’s new book, The Red Sox Years by the former manager and Dan Shaughnessy?

My review of the book will be coming this week. Without giving too much away, from top-to-bottom the organization comes out appearing, to be kind, dysfunctional. As much as Pedro and Manny contributed to the good they accomplished, both were difficult to handle. So why would the front office want to bring Pedro onboard for any reason other than improved coverage and to hypnotize fans by subliminally reminding them of the glory days as if the heroes of the past will beget a repeat in the future?

This smacks of a PR maneuver with Tom Werner’s lust for “star” power; John Henry’s detached, ham-handed view of what will pander to his constituents; and Larry Lucchino left to be the bad guy and implement the scheme. Cherington, much like last year, is a workaday functionary to whom they’re handing tools and telling him to build something and not providing a blueprint or mandate other than warning him that it had better come out good.

What created the Red Sox from 2003 to most of 2011 wasn’t a desperate grasping at the past—a past that resulted in 86 years of futility in the quest for a championship. It was a decided departure from what the team did previously by using cutting edge techniques statistically, a business plan, and a ruthlessness in dispatching of people who no longer fit into the template. That included Pedro.

After a disastrous year with Bobby Valentine, they brought back John Farrell because he was respected and liked by everyone and was part of the successful regime. It’s being ignored that he’s not a good manager, which is what they need more than someone they like and who brings back warm, fuzzy feelings of what was.

They’re putting forth the “back to the way we did it” dynamic with Cherington presented as “in charge.” They’re signing character people and returning to the developmental methods that yielded Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. But like the decision to hire Pedro, there’s a phoniness about it; a tone of “this is what the public wants” instead of “this is what will work.”

A fanbase such as that of the Red Sox, as loyal as they are to those who have performed for them, is undoubtedly happy that Pedro’s back in the fold. The joy will last for a while, then the fans will forget while Cherington has to find activities for his new assistant. The fans aren’t privy nor particularly interested in that. He’s supposedly going to do a lot of “things” and Cherington compared his presence to that of Jason Varitek. The difference is that Varitek wasn’t a pain and Pedro was. Varitek has an eye on a career as a manager or front office person and Pedro doesn’t. Varitek was hired because they wanted him in the organization. Pedro looks like he was hired as a placating gesture to the fans who are sitting on Metro Boston reading Francona’s book and taking the side of their beloved Tito because that’s what they want to do. He’s gone and the people who remain presided over a 2012 travesty that the fans aren’t sure is over. In fact, it’s just beginning. That realization might be clear to the front office and they’re trying everything they can to cloud the horrifying reality.

As great at Pedro was, he undermined manager Jimy Williams and chafed at Williams’s disciplinary procedures when Pedro was clearly wrong. He embarrassed interim manager and former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. He was initially supportive of Grady Little, then backtracked on that support when Little was dumped. He was a handful for Francona in the two years they spent together.

Is Pedro going to suddenly become an organizational mouthpiece and preach to players the value of being a company man when he wouldn’t do it himself while the team was paying him $15 million a year?

This is a hiring for show. There’s no harm in it and while it won’t matter because Pedro isn’t going to be doing much of anything, it’s indicative that the organization is clawing at the the wrong past. They’re hiring and acquiring based on public perception and not on what’s going to help the team. It’s micro-meaningless and macro-meaningful at the same time and it’s a bad sign for where they’re headed. It’s a pretentious signal that something has changed when it hasn’t changed at all.

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Keys To Tigers-Yankees, Game 5

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Pitching.

Ivan Nova and Doug Fister are essentially the same guy.

Neither strikes out a lot of hitters; neither allows many homers; they rely on a pitch-to-contact strategy and need their defense.

In tonight’s game, both will have to keep the ball away from the batters and coax them to try and pull pitches they should be taking to the opposite field; and they need to keep the ball down.

Nova has shown a fearlessness of intense situations and actually appears to relish it—something the Yankees discounted in assessing him. I’d prefer to have someone with average-to-above average stuff and an attitude than brilliant stuff and reluctance to pitch in a do-or-die game.

Fister’s numbers are consistent vs righties and lefties—link.

The pitcher who makes the mistake up in the strike zone to the wrong hitter is the one who’s going to fall.

Controlling the hitters.

Everyone’s going to be concerned about one specific hitter in the Yankees or Tigers lineup.

For the Yankees, it’s going to be Robinson Cano;  Cano hammers pitchers like Fister because he likes the ball down; the one bat I’d be concerned with more than Cano is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was just missing pitches that were in his wheelhouse in game 4 and the Tigers have made the decision to not only challenge him, but to prefer pitching to him rather than the alternatives.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees were expected to have to stop.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees do have to stop.

The Tigers want to get Cabrera up to the plate with runners on base and he lives for games like this. If he’s overanxious and tries to do too much, he’s going to either strike out or hit into a double play; if not, he’s got the capability to wreck the game early.

The defense.

Don Kelly is playing third base instead of Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit because Kelly’s been hitting. Inge is a good defensive third baseman and Kelly is average. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has limited range; if Fister is successful in keeping the ball away from Cano and mitigating his power, the left side of the infield has to catch it when it’s hit.

Curtis Granderson saved A.J. Burnett in the midst of his transformation from “we don’t know which A.J.” into “bad, chase him out of town A.J” with that over the shoulder catch of Kelly’s rocket with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the first inning of game 4. Yankee Stadium is an easier venue in which to hit a home run than Comerica Park, leaving less room to make these game/season-saving catches.

Defensively, Cabrera has a tendency to fall asleep while playing first base and do something airheaded.

Managers.

Who’s going to be the first reliever into the game if either gets into trouble?

There’s no messing around here and if Phil Hughes or Brad Penny are needed in the second inning, things could go downhill fast; if either starter gets off to a poor start, the next reliever’s main job is to stabilize the game and keep it from getting out of hand. I don’t trust either Hughes or Penny to do that.

Of the two managers, the one more likely to do something stupid and panicky is Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Tigers manager Jim Leyland trusts his players—to his detriment at times—and plays hunches, but his mistakes aren’t due to a freakout.

The looming hero.

Justin Verlander threw 120 pitches 3 days ago, but could he come in and provide a few innings if needed? If he shunned throwing on the side after his start, it’s possible that he saved his bullets in case he’s needed tonight.

Would Tigers manager Leyland do that? Would he risk Verlander to use him in relief?

Pedro Martinez left game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians after 4 innings with back problems; he was questionable for the rest of the series. In game 5, with the score 8-8 after 3 innings, Martinez told manager Jimy Williams he’d go for as long as he could when he ambled in from the bullpen.

He went as long as he could alright…by pitching 6 no-hit innings with 8 strikeouts to lead the Red Sox to the ALCS.

Verlander will be willing.

He’ll be able.

But will he be allowed?

And would it be the difference between winning and losing?

It might.

Leyland, in general, tells his players to take a hike when he’s made a decision; but occasionally as he did in the 1997 NLCS with Kevin Brown, he will listen when they stand in front of him and demand to be left in the game.

Verlander’s that type of competitor.

Would Leyland listen if Verlander told him he was ready to pitch in relief?

The initial response would be no, but…it’s game 5; this is Verlander’s year similar to that of Orel Hershiser in 1988.

What better way to prove it than to emerge from the bullpen and save the whole team?

It’s unlikely, but possible.

Because it’s game 5.

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The AL/NL MVP Dichotomy

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On one side, you have a pitcher who has to deal with the dogmatism of the self-involved voters who feel as if they’re the interpreters and adjusters of stated rules.

On the other, you have a player who’s put up numbers that justify a Most Valuable Player season, but is on a team that is out of contention.

How’s this going to go?

Justin Verlander of the Tigers is a clear MVP candidate as well as the AL Cy Young Award winner.

Matt Kemp of the Dodgers is leading the National League in homers and RBI and is right behind Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun for the lead in batting average.

Of course stat people will scoff at the value of both RBI and average, but the Triple Crown is the Triple Crown—it still has meaning as a symbol even if the results aren’t showing up in the won/lost column for the Dodgers.

The Tigers pulled away from the NL Central pack with a 12 game winning streak, but before that their playoff hopes rested largely on the shoulders of Verlander and Miguel Cabrera; without Verlander, they would’ve been barely in contention, if at all.

This is a situation where Wins Above Replacement—in context—is a valuable stat.

Kemp’s WAR is 9.6; let’s say the Dodgers found someone who was serviceable in center field, they still would be well below the 79-77 record they’ve posted with a second half string of good play after an awful start.

Verlander’s WAR is 8.6 and the Tigers would have no chance of replicating even a quarter of what Verlander has meant to the team given the dearth of pitching available. If the Tigers were to lose Cabrera, they would’ve found someone—Carlos Beltran; Josh Willingham; Michael Cuddyer—to make up for some semblance of that lost offense. Such was not the case with Verlander.

The other MVP candidates in the National League like Albert Pujols are just as irreplaceable as Kemp; the Brewers strength has been on the mound and they have enough offense to function if Braun were injured; in fact, there’s an argument that Prince Fielder has been more valuable to the Brewers than Braun has.

In the American League, the same holds true for the Red Sox with Adrian Gonzalez and the Yankees with Curtis Granderson. Had either player gone down, the Red Sox could’ve plugged someone in at either first or third base and gotten by without Gonzalez; the Yankees would’ve gotten a corner outfield bat, shifted Brett Gardner to center and survived with the rest of the lineup picking up the slack.

So does it come down to the “best” player? The “most valuable”?

And are these arguments going to mirror one another in each league while, in some way, validating both?

I only hope that George King of the New York Post no longer has a vote. It was King who famously left Pedro Martinez off his 1999 ballot because he was supposedly convinced by people he respected the year before that pitchers didn’t deserve MVP votes (EUREKA!!!) and left the deserving winner off his ballot entirely depriving him of the award that went to Ivan Rodriguez. In a ludicrous bit of backpedaling and stupid “explanation”, King said that he thought then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams was more valuable to the Red Sox than Martinez.

If he has a vote this season, one can only hope that King hasn’t been studiously watching the job done by Eric Wedge with the Mariners and deemed it more important than Verlander’s work; if that’s the case, then Verlander’s going to be left out in the cold just like Martinez was and it’ll be a case of idiocy all over again.

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Verlander’s MVP Chances, Hurricanes And Hackery

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A confluence of events are bringing back a controversy from 12 years ago as the borderline incoherent ramblings of a writer with a partisan agenda and flimsy excuses should again be brought to light.

Justin Verlander‘s candidacy for Most Valuable Player in the American League is discussed in today’s New York Times by Baseball-Reference‘s Neil Paine.

Naturally the arguments will pop up as to whether a pitcher should be considered for the MVP. This debate is generally based on them having their own award (the Cy Young Award); and that advanced metrics dictate that a pitcher’s contribution—no matter how good—doesn’t have the affect on team fortunes that an everyday player’s does. These awards are subjective and voted on by the baseball writers. There are some who know what they’re talking about; some who don’t; some shills for the home team; some simply looking for attention; and some who do what’s right rather than what would be palatable based on team and employer allegiances. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t imply guilt or innocence in a particular vote and there are no rules to dictate who should win various awards. It’s a judgment call.

I look at the MVP as a multiple-pronged decision.

Was the player (pitcher or not) the best in the league that particular year?

Would his club have been in their current position with or without him?

Who are his competitors?

Paine says that Verlander probably won’t win the award—and he’s right; one thing he fails to mention when talking about pitchers who’ve won and been snubbed is how one or two individuals can make a mockery of the process by injecting factional disputes or self-imposed “rules” into their thought process.

In 1999 George A. King III left Pedro Martinez off his ballot entirely.

Martinez’s numbers that season speak for themselves. Martinez went 23-4; struck out 313 in 213 innings; had a 2.07 ERA to go along with the advanced stats Paine mentions. He finished second in the voting to Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers and should’ve been the MVP in addition to his CYA; but that’s irrelevant compared to King’s response to the rightful criticisms levied upon him.

In this NY Post retort, King discusses a life and death experience surviving a hurricane while he was on vacation as the controversy was taking place. Whether this is a maudlin attempt at sympathy or to provide “perspective” for life out of baseball’s context is unknown. I have no patience for this in a baseball-related discussion because it’s generally disguised as social commentary and a learning tool when in reality it’s a clumsy and self-serving attempt to sound philosophical. Adding his pet and children into his tale of survival is all the more ridiculous.

The most glaring parts of King’s response—in a baseball sense—are also the most inexplicable and unbelievable.

King’s argument that Martinez’s exclusion from his ballot was that he was convinced—EUREKA!!!—the year before that pitchers should not win the MVP.

However, after listening to respected baseball people at last year’s Winter Meetings grouse about giving $105 million to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) who would work in about 25 percent of the Dodgers’ games, I adopted the philosophy that pitchers — especially starters — could never be included in the MVP race.

Furthermore, pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young, something position players aren’t eligible for. Martinez, the AL Cy Young winner, appeared in 29 games this year for the Red Sox. That’s 18 percent of Boston’s games. For all of Martinez’ brilliance, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was more valuable to the Red Sox. So, too, was manager Jimy Williams, the AL Manager of the Year.

Jimy Williams?

More important than Pedro Martinez?

Then King takes swipes at other writers who ripped him by calling them a “pathetic group of hacks”.

Presumably this group included Hall of Famer Bill Madden, who eloquently discussed the absurdity in this NY Daily News piece; and Buster Olney, then a writer for the NY Times, said it made all writers look dumb.

Leaving Martinez off the ballot is one thing—it was obviously done with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in mind and that Martinez was public enemy number 1, 2, and 3 for the Yankees in those days; but to compound it by insulting the intelligence of anyone who can see reality with this kind of whiny, “what does it all mean” junk while simultaneously ignoring the initial point by attacking “hacks” who disagreed with him and said so was, at best, contradictory; at worst, it was pathetic. If King came out and said, “you really think I was gonna vote for Pedro Martinez as MVP after all the stuff he’s pulled against the Yankees?”, it would’ve been unprofessional as well, but at least it would’ve been honest.

I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season; I might even agree if Verlander is bypassed for the award; Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, and Michael Young all have cases to win; but Verlander deserves to be in the conversation and everyone should adhere to the rule that there is no rule for MVP eligibility and be truthful without self-indulgent qualifiers.

One thing I was unaware of is that King works hard and plays harder. I suppose that’s important as well. But it might alter my decision to call him a Yankees apologist who had a vendetta against Pedro Martinez when he cast his 1999 MVP ballot and left him off intentionally. Was there a rule against voting for then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams as MVP? I don’t know.

I haven’t decided where I’m going with this as of yet and my excuse could have something due to the rampaging Hurricane Irene heading for New York.

I’ll let you know.

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