26 March 2005

Nixon Goes #2, Bill James Interview, Kay Being Kay...

Terry Francona has announced that Trot Nixon, against RHP, will hit in the second spot in the order, leaving the previously declared #2 hitter Edgar Renteria to hit 5/6/7 against righties and 2nd against lefties alone.

This is a far more preferable option than the original notion of Renteria hitting in the two-hole as a regular lineup function. When the original announcement was made, it was my thinking that Mark Bellhorn, someone prone to getting on base (obviously) at a well-above league average rate, was tailor-made to the second spot in the lineup, and moreso than Renteria and his '04 .327 OBP.

That being said, the Nixon idea is an optimization that betters even Bellhorn in the role. By hitting Nixon 2nd, Renteria 6th and Bellhorn 9th against RHP, in effect it does the following for Nixon:
  • More at bats per-game.

  • More RBI opportunities with OBP hitters like Mueller, Varitek, Bellhorn and Damon hitting "in front" of Nixon.

  • More strikes/ fastballs hitting in front of Ramirez and Ortiz.

  • Consider as well, the following numbers (and that Nixon will platoon w/ Jay Payton against LHP):

    2003: .330 .423 .635 1.058 25 HR__77 RBI 345 AB
    2004: .336 .397 .552__.949__6 HR__23 RBI 134 AB
    3YRS: .299 .385 .561__.946 52 HR 179 RBI 895 AB

    As a result, that leaves the following lineup against RHP:

    1. Johnny Damon, CF

    2. Trot Nixon, RF

    3. Manny Ramirez, LF

    4. David Ortiz, DH

    5. Edgar Renteria, SS

    6. Kevin Millar, 1B

    7. Jason Varitek, C

    8. Bill Mueller, 3B

    9. Mark Bellhorn, 2B

    It's interesting to consider that, as a result of Ramirez and Ortiz, the 5 hole- typically a big RBI slot- will actually have the potential to be one of the lower RBI possibility-slots in the lineup. As a result, the 5 slot acts as a soft 2nd-leadoff position, something that fits Renteria fine in this context. Seeing as Renteria shines against LHP, and Nixon won't be playing, moving him 2nd makes him, in effect, a less-powerful Nixon against LHP.

    2003: .391 .503 .670 1.173__5 HR 34 RBI 115 ABs
    2004: .366 .429 .550__.979__4 HR 20 RBI 131 ABs
    3YRS: .348 .436 .547__.983 12 HR 66 RBI 371 ABs

    So basically, Nixon against RHP and Renteria against LHP are their optimal roles- Nixon is every bit the hitter David Ortiz is when hitting righties, and Renteria is Manny Ramirez when hitting lefties (minus the power).

    Here would be the lineup against LHP:

    1. Johnny Damon, CF

    2. Edgar Renteria, SS

    3. Manny Ramirez, LF

    4. David Ortiz, DH

    5. Kevin Millar, 1B

    6. Jason Varitek, C

    7. Bill Mueller, 3B

    8. Jay Payton, RF

    9. Mark Bellhorn, 2B

    This of course ignores the inevitable Mirabelli days, in which he will likely hit 8th. Also, it appears the 5/6/7 roles between Renteria/ Millar/ Varitek (against righties) aren't set in stone, and they'll play with it until guys feel comfortable. But this is great news- a really good, forward thinking idea that would seem to maximize the run potential of a team that would already be a powerhouse.

    As a suitable seg-way (I have no earthly idea if that's how I spell that, or if it's something like segui, segue, David Segui... who knows- who cares?), here's a quote from Bill James:

    James T: What are some reasons why the Red Sox might win more games in 2005 than they did in 2004?

    Bill James: A healthy Trot Nixon would be #1 on the list.

    I agree, and I've thought that if he's healthy, Trot may even better his 2003 numbers. But more importantly:

    This from an absolutely fantastic interview between SoSH's RoughCarrigan and Bill James (of course). Read it here.

    Anyway, it is James being effusive, meticulous, articulate and very cooperative- something that, in recent years, hasn't always been the case. Always an intriguing and informative man to read or read about, James rarely suffers "fools" gladly, and can oftentimes come off as a grumpy old man (which actually may even be true, though I heard the opposite) in interviews. Consider an example, from David Laurila's interview at RSN.net:

    RSN: Can you give us a scenario regarding your work with the front office? For instance, what type of assignment might you be given, and what is your process in carrying it through?

    BJ: I’m not sure I can answer. I’m given all kinds of assignments, little ones requiring immediate feedback, big ones requiring months. I don’t know that I can generalize accurately based on this question.


    RSN: Looking at a team as a whole, rather than a group of individuals, how much importance do you place on defense up the middle?

    BJ: I always look at the team as a whole, rather than as a group of individuals. But relative to what? It’s like asking “how important do you think water is?” , or “how important do you think silverware is?” Looking at the meal as a whole, how important do you think silverware is? Relative to what?

    At any rate, it's really incredible to think that James, easily my favorite baseball writer ever, and one of my favorite writers period, is working for the Red Sox. Needless to say, he's someone you'd want working for your team- or your company, franchise, institution, whatever. He's just a brilliantly analytic mind. And a tremendous writer.

    Read the interview.

    Let's have some fun at the expense of Michael Kay, and his stupidity, shall we?

    In his recent mailbag, Michael Kay says a number of really dumb things (including endorsing this RIDICULOUS Sox-Yankees pregame handshake horseshit), but let's focus on the really dumb things he says about the Red Sox. Otherwise, who cares? Right?

    The Red Sox have announced that David Wells will be the Opening Day starter against the Yanks at Yankee Stadium. Since Schilling is out, supposedly for the first couple weeks of the season, do you think the Red Sox legitimately feel that Boomer is the next best pitcher in their rotation, or are they also using it as a way of attempting to get inside the Yanks' heads by using one of the most beloved Yankee pitchers in recent years against them?
    Tara T. — Kearny, N.J.

    KAY: Tara,
    He is the next best pitcher in the rotation. I think you may be reading too much into it because if you look at the staff it is a melange of question marks. After Schilling, Wells would be next, and then a precipitious drop after that.

    Nevermind that it's precipitous, not precipitious, and nevermind that "melange" is a questionable choice of words in that context. Let's look at a couple key phrases.


    "[Wells] is the next best pitcher in the rotation."

    Maybe- but probably not. Last year, Arroyo and Clement both had better ERA+ numbers than Wells. I'm assuming he was referring to "next best healthy pitcher," otherwise we could include Wade Miller as being "better."

    "I think you may be reading too much into it because if you look at the staff it is a melange of question marks."

    That great journalistic tradition of posing a thought and in no way, shape, or form representing that thought with reasons, facts or evidence. Anyway.

    No it's not.

    After Wells, you have Matt Clement, a pitcher who, based on both 2004 and their careers as a whole, is better than Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, New York's two big SP signings this offseason. Bronson Arroyo, in 2004, had a better year than Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina. Tim Wakefield has had a much steadier and consistent career than Jaret Wright- in fact, 2004 can be considered a significant outlier for both.

    I can accept the idea that Randy Johnson is better than Curt Schilling, and that top to bottom- maybe the Yankees have a more talented rotation. I would argue for the Red Sox when Wade Miller becomes healthy. But the idea that after Wells (assuming still the rotation as of Schilling's absence) the Boston rotation is a "melange" of question marks is one of two Kay touchstones:
  • deceptive on-purpose (ie, a total lie)

  • gut-bucket stupid (ie, the likely option

  • "After Schilling, Wells would be next, and then a precipitious drop after that."

    Again, it's "precipitous."

    But anyway, this is in line with the comment before, wherein he says something he HAS to know is flat-out wrong, and covers it up with deafening silence. Of course it's wrong- if it weren't, we'd be happy to get the Wild Card- but how wrong?

    Well, any drop would come likely from Clement and then to Arroyo and then to Wells. But it would not be "precipitous." ERA+ numbers for each pitchers, last three seasons:

    WELLS: 108, 106, 117
    CLEMENT: 123, 103, 112
    ARROYO: 121, 227 (3.43 at AAA Pawtucket), 108 (2.96 at AAA Nashville)

    This is to say nothing of Wakefield as well. Though I'm not totally optimistic about Pavano's 2005 (I think he'll be somewhere closer to his 2003 league-average performance; his peripherals in 03 and 04 where very similar, suggesting his 04 ERA may have been something of an outlier) and I'm really not optimistic about Jaret Wright (who's had one good season and about 6 awful ones in his career), I wouldn't call the drop from Randy Johnson to everyone else "precipitous." That'd be dishonest or ignorant.

    Honestly, I think they gave it to Wells simply because he's the veteran, he's a good "big-game" pitcher, he's used to the atmosphere. Not much to read into there. So I'll agree with him there.

    One more dumb quote:

    So far Jaret Wright has looked good. I know it is only spring training but so far he looks to be a different pitcher and a different person then when he was young coming up with the Indians. Just wanted to get your thoughts on what we can expect from him.
    Michael Krall — Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

    KAY: Michael,
    I have been impressed with Wright on the mound this spring. I have not had an opportuntity to talk with him at length so I'm not sure about him changing as a person. This was a signing that I was not high on when it happened, so at this point it looks like the Yankees gambled and won big time. My worry with him was injury and attitude and at this point neither seems a concern. If the Yankees get 15 wins out of him they would be elated.

    Really? A gamble that has paid off "big time"- by March 26th? Wasn't Kevin Brown pitching really well this time a year ago too?

    As for handling the problem, I don't think there is any long-term plan and I also don't think Bernie['s defense] is as hapless as people are making him out to be...he's middle of the pack, certainly not bottom of the barrel.

    Riiiiiiiggggghhhhhtttt... I'd say "bottom of the barrel" is a perfect defensive description for him. Prediction: the Yankees trade for Mike Cameron by May.

    Here's a terrific article on Hanley Ramirez from RedSox.com highlighting his performance this spring and his budding relationship with the Latin element of the Red Sox (Ramirez, Manny; Ortiz; Renteria)- they took him under their wing(s), etc.

    I for one am getting EXTREMELY excited about the prospect of Hanley playing in Boston, and with the way Damon's expectations for his extension are looking (you'll need registration to view- use Bugmenot.com- but long story short- he's asking A LOT), we may see Hanley, in CF, as soon as 06.

    "You saw the ball come off his bat when he takes BP. [Hanley]'s a man," said Francona. "He drives the ball [the other] way. He's an interesting guy. Especially here, because we're supposed to win, it's hard to look at guys a lot. But you look at him and you can see it happening."

    In other prospect news, Dustin Pedroia, who will start 04 in AA Portland, looks to be officially making the move from SS (which he played in high A and in college at Arizona State) to 2B, which his skill set seems to favor. The move is mentioned in this article by Chris Snow from the Globe.

    Finally, I wanted to quickly mention the incredibly funny, insightful and great-looking blog Empyreal Environs, the creator of which is responsible for the brilliant Opening Day patch shown above. Here's that specific post.

    Great, great blog.

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