Fluidity

A week ago talk was about the Sox, their strong-ish play, and a sudden three game lead.  Situations are fluid.  The Sox have dropped five games in the standings in a mere week, an anomalous drop and an extremely just representation of their recent level of play.  Should their offensive output stick at Pat Boone levels, the Sox will, in no short amount of time, find their fans rooting for a team several games out of first place.  This isn't panic, but fact: the Sox are playing like a lower-tier squad right now.  They can afford to lose five games in a week with a three game lead.  They can't do this while trailing, by any number of games.

Scarily, this slump is team-wide.  And they are a team that isn't exactly a run-scoring machine on the best of days.  The bottom four in the lineup are NL-worthy, and the leadoff spot is death-by-Tito's-pen for seemingly the best of the Sox' hitters. This season, right at this moment, so close to the deadline, is on the rocks. In less than a week Theo may have the opportunity to pivot, and the Sox may be in the position to sell rather than buy. So which team is it? The .600+ win team that performed for 80+ games, or the .000 team of the past several days?  It is hard to tell with baseball and the attendant, impactful emotions of fandom. 

Situations are fluid. 

54 comments… add one

  • It seems a little reactionary to declare the season ‘on the brink’ when the Sox still have a 3.5 game lead in the wildcard, even after this week of nearly-perfectly-bad play. The Rays are not exactly surging, having a .500 month of July.
    The Sox are clearly a flawed team, they have no real offensive depth, and beyond that now feature 3 starters in their rotation who could be classified as ‘5-inning guys’, at least until Wakefield returns, but that’s not too much of a comfort. Will we see much-hyped Michael Bowden in the rotation soon? His numbers in AAA are decent, but certainly nothing all that impressive. 3.64 BB/9, 1.69 K/BB ratio, and a rather horrid 0.55 GB/FB ratio don’t exactly scream viable major league option. Maybe he’s getting bored down there.
    But despite all these flaws, the Sox are in a playoff position. And with two top-of-the-line starters fronting their rotation, they remain a force to be reckoned with in a short series.

    AndrewYF July 23, 2009, 8:19 am
  • Or, in four days the Sox reel off 4 straight, AL hits balls all over the park, and NY loses 3 of 4 and we’re right back to normal:)
    It’ll be these two teams somewhere down the line for something important. Right now, NY is playing well and Boston isn’t. A couple of weeks ago, that was different.
    I don’t think anyone with a brain would put money on either of them running away with anything.

    Brad July 23, 2009, 8:49 am
  • I am not judging this team, nor predicting a collapse. This is, rather, an observation, not a conclusion. As I say, the emotions of fandom cloud our judgment, hence I think it is important to refrain from such judgment.

    SF July 23, 2009, 9:01 am
  • The Sox are scoring just enough runs to lose. The Yanks are scoring just enough runs to win.
    The Yanks have eight above average hitters in their lineup and one, Melky Gardner, who’s just short (97 OPS+).
    The Sox have three below average hitters in their lineup (Green – 78 OPS+; Ellsbury – 86 OPS+; Ortiz – 84 OPS+).
    That’s a difference 5 – 10 outs per game and all the difference in the world.
    Still, because of the pitching the Sox are clearly a playoff team. They just need another hitter (or two!) – and no, LaRoche and Duncan don’t count.

    Rob July 23, 2009, 9:12 am
  • Don’t forget that the Sox have been playing on the road, while the Yankees have been at home. That alone accounts for a win or two.
    I agree with Andrew: we’re still a force to be reckoned with. LaRoche adds some depth, and I really think he’s going to get hot once he’s in Boston. Even if Theo doesn’t make any more moves, our bench is strong: Kotsay, LaRoche, Baldelli, Kottaras, Lowrie. The first three are all good enough to be starters on most teams, whereas Kottaras/Lowrie are certainly suitable.

    Atheose July 23, 2009, 9:21 am
  • “It seems a little reactionary to declare the season ‘on the brink’ when the Sox still have a 3.5 game lead in the wildcard, ”
    It’s actually a 2.5 game lead in the wild card over Texas.

    Cgs July 23, 2009, 9:31 am
  • In less than a week Theo may have the opportunity to pivot, and the Sox may be in the position to sell rather than buy.
    This isn’t an observation. It’s an overreaction. Does anyone really believe that another bad week will push the Sox so far out of contention that they will begin selling their key parts and waiting ’til next year? That’s simply not going to happen, even if the Sox go 0-7 in the next week.

    Paul SF July 23, 2009, 9:51 am
  • Don’t forget that the Sox have been playing on the road, while the Yankees have been at home.
    I don’t know if i agree with your conclusion, but I do think the Sox struggles can be explained by playing on the road. The get a lot of help at home:
    Red Sox – 2009:
    Home: .271 .358 .480 .838
    Away: .254 .338 .404 .742
    By contrast, the Yankees trade homers for doubles at home but their offense is the same otherwise:
    Yankees – 2009:
    Home: .269 .356 .486 .843
    Away: .278 .357 .452 .809

    Rob July 23, 2009, 9:56 am
  • I don’t think the Sox will ever be sellers, not before thus deadline. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be in a position to BE sellers. You are misreading an observation for a judgment.

    SF July 23, 2009, 9:56 am
  • Atheose said “Kotsay, LaRoche, Baldelli, Kottaras, Lowrie. The first three are all good enough”
    That’s still a pretty weak bench, but which one goes, they all can’t stay, unless they carry 11 pitchers, which they won’t.

    dw (sf) July 23, 2009, 9:56 am
  • I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since the Yankees led the division by at least 2 games. Actually, I can believe it. It’s been fairly miserable. So it’s only fair that the Sox get some of that overdue misery their way, at least for a little bit.

    AndrewYF July 23, 2009, 10:28 am
  • The problem is Baldelli might be better than Ellsbury. And LaRoche is better than Ortiz.

    Rob July 23, 2009, 10:33 am
  • Paul:
    I would venture that the Nomar trade in ’04 had a “sell” factor to it. I have never thought that a player should be “off the table” in trade discussions, ever. I change my tune for Lester, Beckett, Pedroia, and Youk, but I honestly think that an open-minded GM contemplates trading just about anyone, and in that frame they are a “seller”. If the Sox go 0-7 (heaven forbid!!!), fall 6 games back of the Yanks and 2 games back of the WC, then why shouldn’t they consider trading a more substantial piece of their roster in an attempt to improve? “Selling” doesn’t imply regression, it only implies trying to maximize value. “Buying” tends to imply overpaying, particularly at trade deadlines.

    SF July 23, 2009, 10:34 am
  • Good point Rob, though despite the offensive numbers the Yankees are performing much better at home: 32-16 vs 25-21 on the road.
    dw, I really don’t think that’s a weak bench. Kotsay, LaRoche and Baldelli are all over 100 OPS+. Compare that to some other benches:
    Yankees: Molina, Hinske, Ransom, Cabrera
    Rays: Hernandez, Aybar, Dillon, Kapler
    I’m way too lazy to look up the other teams, but our bench is certainly good. Obviously one of them has to go to make room on the 25-man, but still.

    Atheose July 23, 2009, 10:40 am
  • And LaRoche is better than Ortiz.
    This is a really vague statement, and even then probably not true in general. Not sure if the link below works, but it shows the last 30 days of hitting performance by both players.
    Also, LaRoche is likely an acquisition made as an attempt to insure some production from 1st/3rd (wishful thinking?), a player who can push Youk to 3rd if Lowell is feeling crispy. He’s not there to replace Ortiz.
    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/headToHeadResults?statsId1=5909&statsId2=7253&statsId3=&statsId4=&statsId5=&type=hitting&timeframe=30

    SF July 23, 2009, 10:44 am
  • Atheose – the bench has injury prone players with large platoon splits (IMO). The Rays have an excellent bench. Yankees: Molina > Kottaras, Hinkse = badelli, ransom sucks, Cabrera > kotsay.

    dw (sf) July 23, 2009, 10:58 am
  • You guys will be fine…still going to come down to a Yankees vs. Sox ALCS I think.

    krueg July 23, 2009, 11:04 am
  • I have to agree with dw. The addition of Hinske gives the Yankees a nice power option off the bench against RHP, and a viable starting option for resting Damon or Swisher.
    Also, Kotsay is nowhere near over 100+ OPS. He’s at 56. He sucks just as bad as Ransom. Baldelli is at 96. LaRoche is barely above average at 108.

    AndrewYF July 23, 2009, 11:09 am
  • I agree with the overall point of this post but I have to disagree with this point:
    “And they are a team that isn’t exactly a run-scoring machine on the best of days.”
    I wish this were true but weren’t the Sox one of highest run-scoring teams at the beginning of the year? They have a line-up with above-average production at most positions. Pedroia, Youkilis and Bay are superstar level bats. This is a very good offensive line-up, although I guess you could argue that relative to its main competitors the Rays and Yanks, it’s not the strongest.

    Nick-YF July 23, 2009, 11:30 am
  • Sorry, but of Lowell and Ortiz, Ortiz should sit while Lowell DHs. Or let them platoon. Either way, LaRoche starts.
    Athesose – the Yankee pitching at home had struggled. They’re now coming around and so will be even better.

    Dave SF July 23, 2009, 11:39 am
  • Why did my name just change?

    Rob July 23, 2009, 11:40 am
  • Sorry, but of Lowell and Ortiz, Ortiz should sit while Lowell DHs. Or let them platoon. Either way, LaRoche starts.
    Ortiz is still much better over the last month+. And Lowell is looking more and more like he’s in worse shape than we thought. I’d wager that Lowell goes on another trip to the DL soon.

    Atheose July 23, 2009, 11:43 am
  • Nick, they’re getting dragged down the way the Yankees in April and May were. Three holes in the lineup is absolutely killer. It’s just giving outs away. In one and two run games that’s huge.

    Rob July 23, 2009, 11:43 am
  • Rob, at this point I think they’re getting dragged down by 8 holes in the lineup. Of course, what the Sox have to figure out is how permanent those holes are. I think it’s reasonable to expect league-average to above league-average production from all but 2 spots: SS and wherever LaRoche is. And I think it’s reasonable to say that you could very well get average to above average production from even those 2 spots. If LaRoche has one of his second-half surges then you get above average work from him. If Lowrie shows the bat he’s shown in the past then you get above average production. Of course, Lowrie’s injury is a problem and LaRoche has been awful in July, so there are questions.

    Nick-YF July 23, 2009, 11:57 am
  • The disparity between the team’s play at home and on the road, which has been trending negatively for the last few seasons now, has officially gotten out of hand.
    Quick, help me with the math. A team that wins 70% of its home games but loses 70% of its road games is what?
    Oh, yeah, a .500 team. Which I fear the Sox may be on their way to becoming. Come on, bats!

    MJL in L.A. July 23, 2009, 12:18 pm
  • I know it’s not really news, but Heyman is reporting that the Sox and Rays are aggresively now in talks with Cleveland for Martinez.
    It would be nice for that to shake out without giving up Bard.

    Brad July 23, 2009, 3:06 pm
  • hey – where did all the comments go?

    dw (sf) July 23, 2009, 3:20 pm
  • Anyone note the current state of affairs in Chicago?
    Tampa is losing…in a very interesting way…

    Devine July 23, 2009, 3:49 pm
  • Tampa is losing…in a very interesting way…
    What, they are all playing naked?

    SF July 23, 2009, 3:59 pm
  • SUPER-interesting.

    Devine July 23, 2009, 4:00 pm
  • They might as well be.
    It’s very interesting indeed.

    Lar July 23, 2009, 4:01 pm
  • You got to play for the win, but if I was a CWS hitter I would just swing at everything, get him onto it..

    Lar July 23, 2009, 4:02 pm
  • mlb.com has free live watch-in of the game if you’re interested.

    Lar July 23, 2009, 4:03 pm
  • Wow, good call on the defensive replacement, hahaha..

    Lar July 23, 2009, 4:08 pm
  • The absolute worst part of this is having to listen to Ken Harrelson, who is ABOMINABLE.

    SF July 23, 2009, 4:09 pm
  • He did it!

    SF July 23, 2009, 4:10 pm
  • game over, perfect game by Buehrle!

    Lar July 23, 2009, 4:10 pm
  • PERFECTO!!!

    Devine July 23, 2009, 4:11 pm
  • I’m off this week. For a moment this morning, I thought about going to this game.
    Crap.
    BUT AWESOME FOR BEUHRLE!!!

    I'mBillMcNeal July 23, 2009, 4:12 pm
  • It’s only sweeter that it happened to those ALCS-winning bastards.

    Devine July 23, 2009, 4:13 pm
  • HOLY SHIT, perfect game? Yeah Chicago!

    Atheose July 23, 2009, 4:14 pm
  • Apparently he only got to three balls three times.

    I'mBillMcNeal July 23, 2009, 4:15 pm
  • Wow, that Wise catch was amazing! What a game! Congrats to Buehrle, a very underrated pitcher.

    Nick-YF July 23, 2009, 4:18 pm
  • I would venture that the Nomar trade in ’04 had a “sell” factor to it.
    Ahh, we’re using different definitions. 2008 was also a trade in which the Sox “sold” by the literal definition of the word, but arguably improved the ballclub, which I consider “buying” by the way I understand the concept when discussing baseball teams at the deadline. 2004 is the same way. The Sox did “sell” a key piece, but they were really “buying” key parts to fill holes and a more harmonious clubhouse.
    The Sox’ lineup on a perfect day to this point was as follows:
    Ellsbury
    Pedroia
    Ortiz
    Youkilis
    Drew
    Bay
    Lowell
    Varitek
    Green
    So, given anticipated levels of production, where are the holes? Green is a hole, but he’s been replaced by Lowrie, who is unlikely to hit as poorly as Green has lately (and hopefully quite a bit better, though he remains a question mark). Lowell is a problem, but his bat should be complemented by LaRoche, who is much better against righties than Lowell. Varitek has been one of the top five offensive catchers in the league. Drew and Bay are in vicious slumps, but they’re not “holes.” Youkilis and Pedroia were in similarly miserable slumps, and now are on the rebound. Ortiz cannot be considered a hole any longer, as he’s producing at levels we would expect, given his age and previous production. Ellsbury remains a question mark at leadoff, though he seemed to put things together further down the order and was one of the hotter hitters.
    So that leaves in the lineup as legitimate worries going forward:
    1. The health and production of Lowrie.
    2. The success of a Lowell/LaRoche platoon.
    I’m OK with that. I just don’t see much cause to freak out about a teamwide slump. If just one of Drew or Bay were hitting over the past two weeks like they have (and will again), the Sox would still be in first place.

    Paul SF July 23, 2009, 4:36 pm
  • “So that leaves in the lineup as legitimate worries going forward:
    1. The health and production of Lowrie.
    2. The success of a Lowell/LaRoche platoon.”
    This is exactly my point, but, of course, better stated.

    Nick-YF July 23, 2009, 4:55 pm
  • Well spelled out, Paul. Personally I have more worries about Drew than you, and perhaps also Bay. Lowell to me is a real problem, particularly because his defense seems limited. As for LaRoche, I think we all need to have realistic expectations about how significant (or minimal) his impact will he. I can only hope this is one of those moves that we look back at and think “that genius Theo, picking up a streaky, second half hitter for very little”.
    If I were the Sox, I would quietly (if possible) find out what Jason Bay could fetch. Not because I think he should be traded, but to
    use as a gauge of what other teams are willing to sell. This is probably impossible to do.

    SF July 23, 2009, 5:17 pm
  • Not to pile on (really) but while the Yanks-home / Sox-road thing may be true for the past week of catch-up, it is not true for the catch-up that began June 24 when the Sox lead over the Yanks was at it’s largest (5 games). From that point until now, the Yankees won at home and on the road against the top 1-2 teams in the ALEast (they were tied for 2nd with Toronto when they played pre-AS Break), AL West, and AL Central as well as the NL East (though it was vs. a Mets team that was just starting to assume crash-positions for the ’09 season). The Sox meanwhile – esp. before the break compiled a mediocre record against a number of last and second-to-last place teams. With the exception of a horrific sweep in LA (horrific in that they lead every game and lead 2 of them by 4 runs pretty deep into those games), the Yankees have been excelling against quality competition- including on the road – as well as a few dregs in the past month.
    This doesn’t change my shared belief with others here that the Sox will rebound, the Yanks are likely to cool off, and things will be tight come late Sept, but just a comment on the analysis…

    IronHorse July 23, 2009, 5:51 pm
  • Ellsbury, Drew, Lowell and Green/Lowrie/whatever are definitely holes in the lineup, as they’ve given below-average production in terms of their position through this point in the season. Or, well, they have been holes. They’re only not holes if you expect them to perform better in the second half of the season, and I just don’t see that with Ellsbury, Lowell, or the shortstop position. I guess you could call them ‘questions’, and the Sox have enough of them without even looking at Bay’s sharp regression, Pedroia’s season-long power outage and Ortiz’s health and recent return to below-averageness (.780 OPS in July, but with a simply April-Ortizian .290 OBP). Even Youkilis has shown signs of regression, his OPS declining each month of the year. Even without this horrible post-ASB slump, all is certainly not fine and dandy with the Sox’s offense. Sorry, but the Sox have plenty more legitimate worries than those two. Unless you mean they’re worried things can get worse, which then I can agree with you, the bottom can really fall out on those two situations.

    AndrewYF July 23, 2009, 6:00 pm
  • Interesting, Andrew. In the first comment you term my post “reactionary”, but in this last comment you coherently point out the ills of the Sox, and say that there are “plenty more legitimate worries” than just a couple of spots in the lineup, that the “bottom can fall out”.
    Which is it?!

    SF July 23, 2009, 7:54 pm
  • I pointed out the concerns, but in no way does it knock Boston out of its probable playoff spot – every other team in baseball has concerns as well, most of them moreso. I’d do a list for the Yankees, but frankly, I don’t want to think about it as I’m enjoying a 2-day buffer of first place for the first time in a long while.

    AndrewYF July 23, 2009, 9:22 pm
  • Ellsbury, Drew, Lowell and Green/Lowrie/whatever are definitely holes in the lineup, as they’ve given below-average production in terms of their position through this point in the season.
    I disagree about Ellsbury because his speed is simply not counted adequately in the more traditional metrics. Drew’s recent slump has been worrisome, but for the season, the Sox have a 116 sOPS+ out of right field, so that is simply not a hole. And while Lowell on defense has been hideous, on offense the Sox have a 108 sOPS+ at third base (likely in part to Youkilis spending some time there, as well).
    Here are the Sox’ sOPS+ by position — i.e. the OPS+ where 100 is league average for that position:
    LF: 127
    2B: 118
    1B: 117
    RF: 116
    C: 112
    3B: 108
    CF: 90
    SS: 87
    DH: 83
    As I said before, Ellsbury is not handled well by OPS+ because his speed makes the times he reaches base more valuable than when nearly anyone else in the league gets on. Plus he had an .848 OPS in the 33 games before the entire offense sank into this black hole. So I guess we’ll have to see with him. He might continue to improve. He might not, but I suspect that even with what he is, he’s league average for center field production. Meanwhile, if we all agree that the DH figure is no longer representative of what we can expect going forward — and that the 3B likely is not either — that leaves Lowell and Lowrie as our major concerns, as I said before.
    And as an avowed fan of J.D. Drew, let me repeat this: There’s simply no evidence to believe Drew is a hole in the lineup. Two weeks ago, he had an .881 OPS. Since then he’s hit .064/.228/.170. That’s simply not a sustainable level of suck for a hitter of his caliber unless we’re ready to call Jason Bay’s spot in the lineup a hole based on his .182 average/.318 slugging over that same time period.

    Paul SF July 23, 2009, 11:49 pm
  • JD Drew has a 103 OPS+. Does this mean that the average RF in the AL is significantly below average? I find that hard to believe, but it could be true, I haven’t looked.
    In any case, it looks like Paul has the optimistic view (almost completely ignores any health, decline and age related concerns) and I and SF have the pessimistic view (weighing more recent performance and bad-case scenarios).
    Lowell and Lowrie are the major concerns as they’re the most likely to suck, because, well, they’ve sucked or haven’t played most of the season. But I really don’t see how you can’t see what I mentioned as significant concerns as well. Ortiz is old and, yes, declined. Drew may be declining as well, he’s 33 after all. They’re also remain large injury concerns. Bay IS a concern, and should be a big one. He has been HORRIBLE since the beginning of June. .694 OPS. That’s more than a slump.
    Again, this is looking at all the negatives. You choose to look at the positives. The reality is likely in the middle, as always.

    AndrewYF July 24, 2009, 12:40 am
  • In any case, it looks like Paul has the optimistic view (almost completely ignores any health, decline and age related concerns) and I and SF have the pessimistic view (weighing more recent performance and bad-case scenarios).
    I would dispute this slightly. There is no evidence of health as being the reason for anybody’s slump (Drew says he’s healthy, Bay has no health concerns), decline would manifest itself over the course of a season, not in two bad weeks, and since the decline would be related mostly to age, we find ourselves back at the debate we were having when Ortiz was so awful — do good hitters fall completely off the table? Generally no, and Drew and Bay certainly don’t fit the mold Ortiz does.
    So in the absence of any evidence supporting a drastic, irreversible slide, the only conclusion I can draw is that a couple good hitters are having an awful couple weeks. I don’t see that as unduly optimistic.
    Bay IS a concern, and should be a big one. He has been HORRIBLE since the beginning of June. .694 OPS. That’s more than a slump.
    Yes. It’s regression. Did anyone think Bay would finish the season with the 1.042 OPS he had on June 2, beating his career-best OPS by 80 points at age 30? He now is at a 123 OPS+, slightly below the 128 he posted in Boston last season. Sounds to me like he’s reached the mean and is more likely than not to swing back in the other direction.
    Again, I just don’t see any evidence to conclude the last two weeks are more reflective of Jason Bay’s likely production going forward than his entire career of 130 OPS+ work.

    Paul SF July 24, 2009, 7:03 am
  • I wasn’t saying health is a reason for slumping, I’m saying that going forward, health is a reason for concern. Ortiz, even when he was slumping, was at least able to take the field. Boston has had fairly good fortune with their starters getting playing time. Even Lowell and his 90 year old hips have accumulated almost 300 PA. Looking at Ortiz’s and Drew’s injury histories, it’s tough to say they’re a reliable bet to be on the field going forward. They’re risky, and that is a concern that is overshadowed by the team-wide slump. 3 of Boston’s 7 good hitters are large injury risks. I just don’t see them having the offensive depth to compensate for the inevitable injury to one of them.

    AndrewYF July 24, 2009, 10:58 am

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