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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

  Doing Our Part to Help the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund

The Red Sox are struggling mightily. We have temporarily vacated our rightful place atop the division and are even being challenged for the (ugh) wile card. This upcoming weekend provides an opportunity, not only for the team to regain some ground, but also for us fans to help tip the scales in our team's favor.

Coincidentally, we're also a mere week away form the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Red Sox Radio-Telethon to benefit the Jimmy Fund at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Red Sox' support of the Jimmy Fund dates back to 1953. The Triumphant Red Sox Fan's involvement with the Jimmy Fund dates back to 1968, when her brother began three years of treatment for leukemia, ultimately losing his fight in 1971 at the age of 5. With those two connections in mind...

Announcing the Triumphant Red Sox Fan's New York Yankees Voodoo Doll Curse

Come one, come all, just in time for the showdown at Fenway: good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, the Red Sox vs. the Mother F****** Yankees.

Click the button below to make a small donation (secure via PayPal) to this year's WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon ($1.00 suggested, but any amount will do). I will bundle all donations and, together with my own, send them to the Telethon next week. Please be sure to specify which MFY body part you would like to curse, and I will stick a pin in the Yankee voodoo doll on your behalf.

Thank you for helping the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund!

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Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 3

I hit the donation button before specifying my body part.
I would like Andy Pettitte's left hand, please. Brad Penny needs all the help he can get.
Cute idea!

Will do, Brenken. The right hand has a few pins already, so you are filling a need!

have a nice day!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

  Last Night's Game: Good and Bad

The Triumphant Mama and I went to Fenway Park last night. My thoughts, in no particular order:

GOOD: The Sox won! In the 8-2 victory of the Detroit Tigers, Boston won their third straight and this afternoon could complete the four-game sweep.

BAD: The MFY won too. I hope to work on that problem this weekend with a homemade voo-doo doll.

BAD: It was windy and chilly. We sat in my friend Lloyd's left field Pavilion Reserved section (under the light tower to the left of the Coca-Cola sign) and let me tell you, the wind blows up there. That could be a good thing in the summer when it's sweltering, but how many sweltering days have we had in this sucky summer? Not many, and last night wasn't one of them. Game time temperature was 68°F and it went down a bit from there. (Note to self: Research game time temperatures at Fenway this season.)

GOOD: It never actually rained. It misted, a lot, and more so when the wind was blowing (the Triumphant Mama theorized it was fog blowing in off the harbor). But we stayed dry, as did my scorebook, which incidentally is four games away from being filled. That's almost 60 games in two years, which doesn't seem possible, although it does include minor league and independent professional games, plus an aborted attempt to score the Cape Cod League All-Star Game in the pouring rain.

GOOD: Josh Beckett, in addition to being a god, is this year's first 14-game winner. To say he was dominant is a little like saying that Mother Teresa was a nice person. He was perfect through 3 2/3, when he issued his only walk, gave up only three hits (two, unfortunately, for home runs), struck out six in seven innings pitched, and was very economical, throwing only 97 pitches. The smart money has him for the AL Cy Young.

GOOD: Mike Lowell was hot with the bat (3-for-4, a home run, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored). Jason Bay had two doubles, a homer, and two walks. Casey Kotchman even contributed with an RBI single, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew each had a single, and Nick Green and Dustin Pedroia each had a double. Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez were solid in relief.

BAD: Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek had nada. Tek did draw two walks, but he's still batting only .222, .077 this month. Ortiz is sitting on the Danny Ainge line at .220. Ellsbury is cold so far in August, with just a .264 average so far after hitting .300 or better in each of May, June, and July.

BAD: Nick Green has done more than anyone expected him to, but our continuing lack of a starting shortstop is a big problem.

GOOD: This has nothing to do with last night's game, but I finally found a clear rain poncho that will allow me to keep my scorebook dry and still see what I'm writing. I ordered five.

The last game of the Tigers series starts...now. Go Sox!

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Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Sunday, August 09, 2009

  The Papi Issue, in Words, Numbers, and Pictures

Besides my brief post upon hearing the news that David Ortiz was on the list of 104 major league players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, I haven't written much. That's because, rather than hearing clearer information since the first report, the issue has grown murkier with each passing day.

The day after the news broke, Ortiz issued a statement which said, in part:

One, I have already contacted the Players Association to confirm if this report is true. I have just been told that the report is true. Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive. Two, I will find out what I tested positive for. And, three, based on whatever I learn, I will share this information with my club and the public. You know me - I will not hide and I will not make excuses.

Yesterday, the new head of the players' union released a statement prior to the scheduled news conference with Ortiz. Michael Weiner said, in part (emphasis mine):

The sealing orders, which were appropriately issued by the various courts to maintain the collectively-bargained confidentiality of the testing, prevent the [Major League Baseball Players'] Association from supplying a player with specifics regarding his 2003 test results, or from discussing those specifics publicly. The practical effect of the sealing orders, if that confidentiality is to be maintained, is to further preclude the Players Association from confirming or denying whether a player's name appears on any list which purportedly discloses the 2003 test results. The result is that any union member alleged to have tested positive in 2003 because his name supposedly appears on some list -- most recently David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- finds himself in an extremely unfair position; his reputation has been threatened by a violation of the court's orders, but respect for those orders now leaves him without access to the information that might permit him to restore his good name.

[ . . . ]

First, the number of players on the so-called "government list" meaningfully exceeds the number of players agreed by the bargaining parties to have tested positive in 2003. Accordingly, the presence of a player's name on any such list does not necessarily mean that the player used a prohibited substance or that the player tested positive under our collectively bargained program.

Second, substantial scientific questions exist as to the interpretation of some of the 2003 test results. The more definitive methods that are utilized by the lab that administers the current Drug Agreement were not utilized by the lab responsible for the anonymous testing program in 2003. The collective bargaining parties did not pursue definitive answers regarding these inconclusive results, since those answers were unnecessary to the administration of the 2003 program.

Third, in 2003, legally available nutritional supplements could trigger an initial "positive" test under our program. To account for this, each "test" conducted in 2003 actually consisted of a pair of collections: the first was unannounced and random, the second was approximately 7 days later, with the player advised to cease taking supplements during the interim. Under the 2003 program, a test could be initially reported as "positive", but not treated as such by the bargaining parties on account of the second test.

What this all means in terms of Ortiz' initial statement is that Ortiz did not (and, according to Weiner, cannot) find out exactly what it was for which he reportedly tested positive in 2003. It also means that, at least according to Weiner, the presence of any player on the sealed list doesn't necessarily mean that that player used a substance that was prohibited at the time.

The problem is that until we know what he did test positive for, we won't know what he didn't test positive for—a fact that gives cover to people who see this as proof that Ortiz used "steroids" without actually understanding that there are many categories of performance-enhancing drugs, anabolic steroids being only one. But that's the big one in most people's minds, and the other two big PED stories this year—Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez— apprently did involve a steroid.

When Rodriguez was revealed to have been on the list, he admitted using "a banned substance" but never said which one (nor did he deny it was an anabolic steroid he used). But Sports Illustrated reported that he had tested positive for "two anabolic steroids," something Rodriguez has not protested. More recently, when Manny Ramirez tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs this year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the positive test was for both an abnormally elevated ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, and also human chorionic gonadotropin, "a female fertility drug that male steroid users sometimes take to stimulate their body's natural testosterone production, which usually is retarded by steroid use."

As far as I've seen, the anonymous source who has been leaking the 2003 list has not claimed that any of those substances were what landed Ortiz on the list. And the New York Daily News reported today that, according to one person who did prison time in the BALCO case, "[I]t's feasible that David Ortiz's inclusion on baseball's Scarlet Letter list may have been caused by a steroid-spiked supplement that was legal in 2003."

If that is true—and again, we won't know unless and until the details of the testing are made public—then Ortiz may not have known what he was using and wasn't careful enough to find out.

My conclusion now is that I am more willing than I was initially to give Ortiz the benefit of the doubt, provided he can eventually back up his claims.

As for other people's conclusions, they run the gamut. All the Red Sox fans I talked to in the hours and days following the leak of Ortiz' name took the report at face value and believed it. Most of them didn't want to believe it, but ultimately they felt that if they believed the anonymous source when the player was A-Rod, then consistency required that they believe the source when the player was Big Papi.

Then there have been the reactions from the people who do want to believe it. On WEEI's Mustard and Johnson show today, I heard two Yankees fans who called in with their "I told you so" attitudes on full display. One of the callers, known as Frank from Gloucester, based his belief on nothing more than what I have presented here. Another, whose name escapes me, offered as further purported proof the difference in Ortiz' performance with the Minnesota Twins and his performance after joining the Red Sox in 2003. It's the Twins comparison I'd like to delve into.

Ortiz played parts of three seasons for Minnesota before having his first full-time year in 2000. From that season to the present, he has hit home runs in double-digits every year. But when you're talking about home run hitters, what really counts is how many at-bats you go between home runs. Let's look at Ortiz' season-by-season ratio of home runs per at-bat for the seasons in which he had at least 100 at-bats. Keep in mind that the lower ratio is is better.

One possible explanation I've heard about Ortiz' breakout as a power hitter involves the way Minnesota used him. The Twins' hitting philosophy, presumably espoused by their hitting coach, focused more on getting hitters to hit for average and hit to the opposite field, rather than relying on power. The Red Sox, by contrast, were more interested in getting hitters whose talents filled a particular offensive need, and Theo Epstein recognized Ortiz as a potentially prolific power hitter. Once Ortiz had a team and a hitting coach who were willing to let him swing for home runs, he flourished. But hitting philosophy is a difficult thing to quantify.

The other explanation is that Ortiz broke out once he got a chance to play regularly. How much he played can be measured by games or by at-bats. Since we looked at at-bats per home run above, let's look at those two numbers graphically.

At-bats, by season

At-bats per home run, by season

Do you see what I see? Not only was 2003, the year in which he reportedly tested positive for something, not his most productive year (although it is in the top four), but his ratio of at-bats per home run correlates closely to his at-bats in a season. In other words, the numbers show conclusively that the more regularly he has played, the better his home run totals have been. It is for that reason that teams send new call-ups from the minor leagues back down when they're not needed: it's easier to develop a player's skills when he plays every day than it is when he is sitting on the bench.

As I said before, none of this proves Ortiz didn't use steroids or some other banned substance. But it does debunk the meme that Ortiz' home run numbers could only be due to steroid use.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

  Of Pitching and Losing and a Pennant Race, but Mostly Pitching

I would like to talk about my weekend in Baltimore, where last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the Red Sox swept a series and put themselves on a trajectory toward retaking first place in the division. I would like to talk about that, but I won't. It seems like so long ago, and they haven't won a game since.

It should be self-evident from the losing scores this week (4-2, 6-4, 13-6) and even Sunday's winning score (18-10) that the pitching has been inconsistent at best, rotten at worst. At the top of the excrement list is one John Smoltz, past Cy Young winner and All-Star, future Hall-of-Famer, a member of the exclusive 3,000-strikeout club, and the only player in major league history to have reached 200 career wins and 150 career saves. This afternoon, the Red Sox announced they have designated Smoltz for assignment.

I had high hopes for Smoltz. I always liked him when he was part of the Braves' starting trifecta of Maddux-Glavin-Smoltz, and despite his shoulder surgery of over a year ago, I thought he might still have enough left to be a contributor, even on a limited basis, to this year's Red Sox. I was wrong.

Smoltz has given up at least five earned runs in all six of his eight Red Sox starts. He has gotten out of the sixth inning only twice. He has allowed an average of one home run per start, and has a 8.33 ERA, .343 batting average against, and a 1.70 WHIP. That last number represents almost all hits; Smoltz' only good stat this season is his 3.7 strikeouts to walks ratio.

A guy like that, however good the rest of his career has been, shouldn't be in anyone's starting rotation, especially not that of a team that has the third best record in the American League and is embroiled in what is shaping up to be a three-way fight for the division title.

Perhaps Smoltz could have pitched in relief. He was solid in the first and second innings, sporting a 2.81 ERA that even includes a four-run first inning in his first start of the year, a 9-3 loss to the Nationals on June 25. In the third and fourth innings, his ERA skyrocketed to 12.94, so obviously we'd be talking about short relief. But can a 42-year-old fastball pitcher coming back from shoulder surgery be expected to warm up quickly and pitch as often as relief work requires? Probably not.

I had decided last weekend, after he gave up five runs in six innings against the Orioles but got the win anyway (thank you, offense), that it was time to put Smoltz out of his—and our—misery. It took Tito, Theo, and the cabal one more start, his worst all year, to come to the same conclusion.

Will Smoltz pitch again? Probably not, Right now, who would take him? When Terry Francona runs out of patience, it's a pretty good sign that you've reached the end of the road. Rotowire.com put the spin this way: "Smoltz is unownable at this point [...] It's very possible that he's just done." But even if some team does decide to give him one last shot, my advice is to graciously decline. John Smoltz has done just about everything he could ever have hoped for, short of a 2009 comeback. It's time for him to rest on his laurels, go play with his kids, enjoy some golf, and wait for the call from Cooperstown.

This fan wishes him well.


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