What’s Wrong With Jeter

As requested, today’s column will take on the much written about subject of Derek Jeter’s missing bat. The multitude of theories as to the reasons he is hitting below .200 can be broken down to these:

1- He has suddenly gotten old
2- His approach is hurting him
3- He is hurt
4- He has a psychological problem with sharing the same infield with A Rod

Let’s take a look at each one.

Jeter is 29 years old; about to turn 30, he has been in the majors for the past nine years and played over 1200 games. These are substantial amounts, but nothing that should have him worn out already. The fact is players of Jeter’s caliber do not suddenly flame out at thirty. A couple of years past thirty and they certainly do, but the clock has not struck midnight for Derek yet.

As to his approach, it is hard to think that something that got him 1500 hits and a career average of .317 before this season has suddenly turned against him. However, he is on pace to strike out 135 times and walk only 45. This may be more a factor of his pressing at the plate and not a sign of a flaw in his swing that pitcher’s have suddenly found and started to exploit. Jeter has always been a free swinger and it is hard to put too much emphasis on projections only one-quarter of the way through the season.

Injury is the most common reason given for his struggles. He must be hurt and not saying anything is the way the story goes. This is the hardest argument to believe as in watching Jeter it is hard to see any difference in his game. Last year, after he came back from his shoulder injury, you could see he wasn’t as aggressive on the basepaths or in the field. This year, your eye tells you something different. Furthermore, the statistical evidence doesn’t backup the injury hypothesis. Jeter is on pace to have one of his best defensive seasons ever. His current range factor is 4.8, an improvement of a point from last season. Yes, the Yankees are turning more double plays, and this helps increase his range factor, but the rate of increase in double plays is not as high as the rate of increase in his assists and putouts. For those of you who don’t like Range Factor as a measure of defense, his current Zone Rating (a percentage of balls fielded by a player in his defensive area) is .895, almost .40 points higher than the best mark of his career. I find it very hard to believe that he would be able to play that level of defense with an injury.

And that brings us to the last argument and the hardest one to prove, that A Rod’s presence is somehow affecting Derek’s offensive performance. It is hard to believe that someone who has consistently performed at such a high level and in high-pressure situations would have a problem with any new teammate, but I suspect that Derek may be pressing a little because of A Rod. Let’s face it, almost everyone (me included) said that A Rod should be the shortstop and Derek should change his position, not the other way around. I don’t care how accomplished a person you are, any type of criticism like that would cause you to want to prove people wrong. I suspect Derek has been trying to prove to the world that he is a great shortstop. As we have seen with almost all the new players coming to the Yankees in recent years, pressing like that doesn’t work well. (See Giambi in 2002, A Rod at the start of 2004 and Sheffield to date) Hitting in the majors is hard enough without having to lug any extra pressures to the plate.

Am I right? Only time will tell, if Derek starts hitting again and no other explanation is given, then I would say I am. If he continues to perform poorly in 2004 then perhaps he is suffering from a mysterious injury or something that I haven’t thought of in this column.

Peter’s columns appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com

Red Sox May 2004

May 23, 2004

 

Back to Their Winning Ways

 

The Red Sox swept the Blue Jays this weekend. Good stuff. Now on to some tougher competition. The Oakland A’s come to town on Tuesday, followed by the Seattle Mariners.

 

Hold on a moment. Oakland is good (24-18 through 5/22) but Seattle is terrible (14-28 through 5/22). What happened to Seattle?

 

More on that in a moment.

 

Coming into the Blue Jays series, the Red Sox were 9-11 for the month of May. With the sweep, they are 12-11. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they’ve had a very easy schedule in May. They’ve faced the Rangers (4 games), the Royals (3 games), the Blue Jays (7 games), the Indians, (7 games) and the Devil Rays (3 games).

 

Those teams through 5/22 had a combined record of 85-121. Yikes, that is some terrible competition. Take out the 25-17 Rangers and the rest of them were a combined 60-104. Brutal.

 

So the fact the Red Sox have only gone 12-11 goes to show A.) How bad they have been playing and B.) How lucky they are to have had such an easy schedule in May.

 

Imagine if they’d been playing the Angels, the Yankees and the Twins instead? Hopefully this drought ended with this weekend’s series and they are back to playing some good baseball.

 

Back to Seattle. What is wrong with these guys? Well for starters, they’ve only hit 28 home runs. That is last in the league. Their #s look like this: .258/.323/.368. That works out to an 691 OPS. Ugly. Compare that to the league leading offense of the Texas Rangers who have hit 60 home runs and have posted .289/.350/.491. Those are 2003 Red Sox-esque.

 

Couple the Mariners lousy offense with an average pitching staff and you’ve got trouble. Oh yeah, they are also very old.

 

P – Player – Year of Birth
C – Dan Wilson – 1969
1b – John Olerud – 1968
2b – Bret Boone – 1969
3b – Scott Spiezio – 1972
ss – Rich Aurelia – 1971
lf – Raul Ibanez – 1972
cf – Randy Winn – 1974
rf – Ichiro – 1973
dh – Edgar Martinez – 1663…wait, 1963

 

So it’s not like it is a bunch of young guys struggling, it is a bunch of old, veteran guys struggling.

 

I bet they’ll figure it out soon enough and might end up at .500 by the end of the season.

 

Notes:

 

David Ortiz signed a 2 year extension for $12.5m with a team option. That’s good news. That leaves Pedro, Lowe, Varitek and Nomar as the remaining star free-agents to be. Here is my prediction (my 5/23 prediction):

 

Nomar – Gone
Varitek – Gone
D-Lowe – Stays
Pedro – Stays

 

Interesting eh? I think that betting goes against coventional wisdom around here. My take is that Nomar just hates the attention he gets here. As for Varitek, he is 32 and, I’ve said it before, catchers rarely have much to contribute past the age of 32. Bill James has published something to this extent and I’m sure Theo Epstein knows about it.

 

Why give a Scott Boros client (Varitek) the $8-10m per season when you have a potential replacement not too far away in the form of Kelly Shoppach. Even if Shoppach isn’t ready in 2005, you could go with a combo of Doug Mirabelli and Andy Dominique or they can sign another catcher as a one year fill in for 2005 until Shoppach is ready.

 

I just can’t see them meeting Boras’ asking price.

 

Lowe stays because unless he fixes his mechanics, no one will give him what he wants anyway. I suppose the only risk in this guess is that perhaps the Red Sox won’t want him either…at any price.

 

As for Pedro, if he was so willing to encourage David Ortiz to stay with the Red Sox, that means he wants to stay here too. I have no idea how well he’ll play this year, but I just can’t see the Red Sox letting him walk, especially if Curt Schilling would be upset and there aren’t many other top line starters going into the market at the end of this year. At least none as good as Pedro.

 

Of course, this isn’t my final answer.

 

There was a rumor floating around that the Red Sox would package Byung-Hyun Kim and Johnny Damon to Seattle for Freddy Garcia and then send Garcia to the Royals for Carlos Beltran.

 

If they were able to make that, that’d be the best move in the history of baseball. Well one of them anyway. Damon is getting paid $8m this year and is due for $8.5m next year. Kim is getting $4m and $6m respectively. Beltran is in the midst of his walk year getting paid $9m. Wow, the Red Sox would be unloading $12m in salary this year, their starting CF, who from all accounts hasn’t done what we’d hoped, and their former 5th starter who is now in AAA for an All-Star CF with 30/30 potential.

 

Wishful thinking. They might still get Beltran, but they’ll have to give up some cheap talent, not expensive talent.

 

Scott Williamson was placed on the DL with mild elbow tendonitis. Good that they caught this now rather than have him deal with it in August. By the way, is anyone else worried that Alan Embree will also get shut down sometime this summer? He is getting used at an high rate and has struggled with elbow/shoulder soreness each of the last 2 seasons. Let’s hope Terry Francona knows this.

 

Lastly, Kevin Youkilis was called up this week to play 3rd while Bill Mueller’s knee gets better. While I would have liked to have seen him play a full 2004 in AAA, it is nice to finally get to see him operate.

 

He does have great command of the strike zone. Not only that, he seems really good at laying off teaser pitches, that is pitches that ultimately break out of the strike zone.

 

But, the fact remains he has only played a few games and is sure to struggle a bit. Let’s hope Mueller gets back soon (and plays better than he has to date) and Youkilis keeps his training up at Pawtucket.

 

Posted by Andy at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2004

 

The Jamesian Way

 

I think a good portion of baseball fans could learn a thing or two from reading Peter’s (the Yankee fan on this site) commentary on Bill James and James’ idea of bullpen use.

 

As we all know, the Red Sox 2003 bullpen was horrendous in the first few months. Until B-H Kim showed up, they really didn’t have a closer. Forget about Kim’s struggles later in the season and his 2/3 of an inning in the postseason, there is no doubt he helped the bullpen overall.

 

In April and May, 2003, the media needed to point the finger at someone or something so as to place blame for the scuffling bullpen. Well Bill James, Theo Epstein and their unorthodox beliefs took the heat.

 

How many times did you read something like, “The Red Sox bullpen-by-committee approach failed them again last night.”? The idea being that the Red Sox didn’t need a closer, rather any pitcher could get the last 3 outs of a game.

 

The fact is, Bill James and ultimately Theo Epstein, believes(ed) no such thing. James’ strategy is that each bullpen had a pitcher one can point to as the “closer.” More often than not, the closer is the best pitcher in the bullpen. James goes on to ask, why is it that the best pitcher in the bullpen will only be used to get the last 3-6 outs (usually 3) of a game? Even if those outs don’t represent a particularly difficult situation.

 

Just how tough is it to get 3 outs and therefore the save when your team has a 3 run lead? It really isn’t that tough. Most members of the bullpen can probably get those 3 outs, more often than not.

 

Imagine this scenario: Red Sox winning 6-5 in the sixth inning. Tim Wakefield, the starting pitcher, just doesn’t seem to have a harness on his knuckleball (or his 70 mph fastball for that matter). The opponent has two on and no one out. Grady Lit….er…Terry Francona comes out and relieves Wakefield. Who should he bring in?

 

Well, it is quite possible that the rest of this half of the sixth inning is the most crucial part of the game. If the reliever that Francona summons struggles, there goes the lead and perhaps a chance to win.

 

So, the manager can go with one of his 3 or 4 middle relievers, his set-up man(or men) or his closer. Well I don’t know about you, but since this represents probably the most important spot in the game, I’d bring in my 2nd or 3rd worst bullpen arm (one of my 3 or 4 middle relievers). Right?

 

If you agree, that means you are playing traditional baseball. The rule being you don’t summon your best bullpen arm a/k/a the closer, because it isn’t the 8th or 9th inning.

 

James, on the other hand, would have summoned the “closer” because he is the best arm available at what has presented itself as the biggest potential turning point in the game.

 

My point in talking about all of this is that the Boston media, for the large part, got the strategy the Red Sox were trying to employ wrong.

 

So what about those that say the 2004 Red Sox bullpen is far better than the 2003 version? They are right, that’s because they have a healthy Scott Williamson, a healthy Alan Embree, a great “closer” in Keith Foulke and a handful of other bullpen arms that are pitching well.

 

Basically, the Red Sox have 3 current or former “closers” in their bullpen in Foulke, Williamson and Timlin (4 if you count the recently demoted Kim). They were all, at one time, considered the best arm in their respective bullpen.

 

That’s why the 2004 bullpen is so good, it is because it is loaded with talent. Tons of talent. The key is that James’ figured it was best to use your best guy when he is needed most, be it the 6th or 9th inning.

 

Regardless of what James thinks, Terry Francona has gone back to traditional bullpen management, rightly or wrongly. Foulke has only closed games or worked in tie ballgames, best I can tell with my limited research.

 

It is hard to argue with success, but at the same time, all of the arms in the pen, especially the ones I mentioned by name, have all pitched as well, if not better, than you’d expect given their career stats.

 

Did any of that make sense? If so, great. If not, ask Bill James to explain it. That’s probably your best option as I probably didn’t do his theory justice. By the way, James doesn’t just come up with theories and go from there. He always, ALWAYS, has stats to back him up. I just can’t seem to find any online.

 

Here’s what I did find though:

 

www.billjames.com – A site that deals with nothing to do with the baseball Bill James. In fact, this James appears to be a Brit (I couldn’t verify this, but he just looks British. Is that wrong of me?) who is a consultant/e-business entrepreneur/generalist in all things vague. I really couldn’t figure out what he does or what he is trying to sell/offer.

 

www.billjames.org – Wow, Bill James is a politician? This Bill James is a Republican, serving, for his third two-year team, on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Don’t forget he represents District 6 (the Pineville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Arboretum areas….derrrrr). Wow, this guy is….is….really, really boring.

 

Well I guess the baseball Bill James doesn’t have his own site, so you’ll have to contact him through his employer, the Boston Red Sox.

 

Notes:

 

The Red Sox just lost their 2nd in a row. Cripes, I hate it when they lose to crappy teams.

 

Posted by Andy at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2004

 

Wind Bag

 

I have not the energy nor the interest to deal with Pedro’s most recent comments except to say that I really can’t relate to the situation he is in. If I were making $17.5m per season and in the last year of my contract, perhaps I’d have something useful to say, but since I don’t, it just looks like two very rich men with a dispute.

 

As for baseball related stuff, boy did Pedro look bad on Saturday. He just isn’t the same as when he threw 95 mph. That is a fairly obvious statement, but one that needs to be said.

 

I heard someone on WEEI today say that “when Pedro has all of his pitches working and has pin point control, he is a great pitcher.” Well, thanks for that special insight genius. I think if I had 3-4 pitches working and pin point control, I’d be a good pitcher too.

 

My point here is that in order for Pedro to be dominant, he has to have everything working for him. In years past (circa 2000), he didn’t need great control or all of his pitches working. He could rely on his 96-97 mph heat to tip the scales. Without that special weapon though, he has to be firing on all cylinders to be dominant.

 

Take that for what it is worth. I just think Red Sox management is wise to tread lightly with Pedro and his contract status.

 

Speaking of contracts and the Red Sox, let’s take a look at next year’s free agent pool. I found a site, one whose accuracy I haven’t verified, that lists the potential FAs for the 2004-2005 off season.

 

Baseball Roster Central keeps tabs on FAs for this year and beyond. Fairly neat.

 

Of interest, the biggest free agent pitchers (starters) available this coming off season are:

 

Pedro Martinez
Derek Lowe
Freddy Garcia
Matt Clement
Roger Clemens
Odalis Perez
Al Leiter
Kevin Millwood
Kris Benson
Woody Williams
David Wells

 

While not all of the guys above are stars, they certainly have won a few games between them.

 

It is interesting to note that should the Red Sox lose Pedro and Lowe to free agency, they will have a tough time replacing them with equal or better quality. What twosome is better than Pedro and Lowe?

 

Millwood/Clement?
Williams/Perez?

 

It is because of this potential dramatic drop-off in pitching after this year for the Red Sox that I bet either Lowe or Pedro will still be in a Red Sox uniform in 2005 or Theo Epstein will engineer a trade for a major arm. With two of Oakland’s big three scheduled to be free agents after next season, perhaps Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder will come to Boston.

 

Wow, I’m way ahead of myself. It’s barely May and I’m already looking at next year. I can’t help it though. Baseball transactions and finances provide some of the most interesting drama for me. Sniffles.

 

Speaking of drama (or anti-drama), the Red Sox are hitting just .221/.337/.349 with runners in scoring position through May 2. That is horrible. The only good news is that their opponents are hitting only .200/.302/.315 with runners in scoring position.

 

With Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon and Ellis Burks all hurt, I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Add to that the recent slump of Manny Ramirez. Manny went 2-11 with 6 K’s vs. the Texas Rangers this past weekend. Manny and David Ortiz were carrying the offense (Ortiz went 2-11 with 4 K’s against Texas). With them cooling off, someone has to pick it up. Pick it up!!!

 

 

 

Posted by Andy at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)