Ranking the Red Sox Prospects

My regular readers will know that I am a fan of the Boston Red Sox, an American baseball team located in Boston, Massachusetts. I would consider myself a bit more involved than a casual fan in that I keep tabs on the team’s prospects.

For those unfamiliar with baseball, the sport works by keeping development pipelines of young talent fed through what we call a farm system. In essence a number of teams owned or contractually linked to the Major League team develop young players until they are ready to debut at the sport’s highest level.

Very few of total number of players in the system will ever get called up to “the Show”. In fact, in the history of the sport only 20,000 men have reached that level. Most of the rest will peak somewhere in the Minor Leagues. Most that reach the Majors will have been at some point prospects. And so to keep tabs on your team’s prospects and farm system sets one apart, in my mind, from the casual fan who simply knows a few of the team’s star players and enjoys a hot dog and a pint of beer at the stadium a few times a summer.

Red Sox fans are fortunate to have a website dedicated to coverage of Boston’s farm system, SoxProspects.com. They rank the system’s Top 60 prospects using their own methodology and research and publish the list online for fans like myself to enjoy.

Last week they updated their rankings. Long story short, the pandemic has impacted baseball and the development of young players. Consequently, the rankings changed significantly. What I really wanted to see was a visualisation of all the changes. So I took it upon myself to do just that using their data.

Hopefully we get a good player or two out of this

Now, if you also happen to be a Red Sox fan, I highly recommend their site. It’s fantastic. Normally I would take the train up to Trenton and see the Portland affiliate when it played there, but the Trenton team no longer exists. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see a Red Sox minor league team again. But hopefully sometime soon, because there look to be some good players coming up.

So I’ll be looking forward to, hopefully, a good run of contending teams in the coming years.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Trading Andrew Benintendi

Yesterday, one year to the day the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox made another big trade, sending Andrew Benintendi, their starting left fielder, to the Kansas City Royals as part of another three-team trade—last year’s three-team part fell apart, but initially involved Boston receiving a quality reliever from the Minnesota Twins.

In this year’s trade, the Red Sox receive an outfielder, Franchy Cordero, from the Royals and a pitcher, Josh Winckowski, from the New York Mets. Boston is sending $2.8 million to Kansas City to help defray the costs. Using data from Baseball Trade Value, we can make a quick graphic to show how this trade shakes out for the teams involved.

How the trade looks, with incomplete data

At first glance, we see that the Red Sox and the Royals are giving up more than they are receiving in value. The Mets look like the clear winner here, by a long shot.

And it could end up that way this time next year.

But, there is one enormous question mark—or maybe three. The Red Sox are also acquiring one player to be named later from the Mets and two from the Royals. Players to be named later are usually not the high end of prospects, but instead of low to middle value. And what appears likely in this case is that the Red Sox will be presented lists of players from both teams and Boston can choose which ones they like. The key here is that this could take a few months to sort out, because Boston wants to see how these players perform in the minor leagues. In 2020, there was no minor league season and so teams have very little to no information on players, which makes it nigh impossible to accurately assess their skill sets.

And so yes, we can make graphics like this and talk about how the Red Sox lost this trade. But in reality, we’ll need to wait a few months to see the last three players of the deal to see how badly—or how well—Boston does in the end.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Shipping Out of Boston

Monday was the trade deadline for this year’s attempt at a baseball season. The Red Sox actively sold off parts of their roster. You may remember that just two years ago, the Red Sox won the World Series, the sport’s national championship. One would imagine that two years later, most of that championship calibre roster would remain.

You would be wrong.

Well over half that roster is gone. And to prove it, I bought a t-shirt to celebrate. The t-shirt’s design featured the World Series roster on the reverse. (To be fair, there was a mistake as Brandon Workman, who had been on the ALDS and ALCS teams was removed for Drew Pomeranz. But Pomeranz is also gone and so what do you know, the math still works.) I simply crossed out who is no longer with the team.

Some people retired, like Steve Pearce, who, despite being World Series MVP, had his body simply give out and could no longer play the sport two years later. Others, like Blake Swihart, were really only on the roster so that they would not be lost to waiver claims. Still others, like Joe Kelly, understandably left in free agency for deals that were probably way overpriced. And others like Mitch Moreland were simply traded at the end of their contracts for potential prospects to build the next winning team.

And then there are the others.

Brock Holt, a fan favourite super utility, a verifiable Brockstar, who the Red Sox never really entertained any notion of retaining this past off-season. Jose Peraza is no Brock Holt.

And of course, last but certainly not least, we have the Mookie Betts situation. Because ownership has got to make its millions. A homegrown, fifth-round draft pick who was originally slotted into second base. As he began to rise through the system the thought was to trade him, because Dustin Pedroia blocked him in that position. Well someone, somewhere (probably no longer in the organisation) had the idea of let’s try him in the outfield. 2018 MVP much?

But he was traded to the Dodgers this off season because ownership wouldn’t agree to an extension, a pricey one to be fair, but one that an ownership group and a particular owner that includes (in whole or in part) the Red Sox, Fenway Park, NESN, Roush Fenway Racing (controls two NASCAR cars), and in the UK, Liverpool FC, and Anfield, home of Liverpool FC. So, you know, they have some money. But they wouldn’t commit to paying a homegrown star his due to have him play his entire career in Boston.

So they flipped him to the Dodgers for a few prospects and one player, Alex Verdugo, who has a checkered past with allegations of being present near a sexual assault (though he is not alleged to have assaulted the victim, being as he was reportedly in the other room) and then more directly recording on Snapchat the beating of aforementioned victim by two other women who were in the room. None of this has been proven in court, however, because none of it was thoroughly investigated, allegedly because the Dodgers and their director of player development, who would later go on to manage the Phillies and now the Giants, did not really want it fully investigated. And by all accounts, the incident will never be fully investigated and so we’ll never really know what happened in that hotel room.

They traded Mookie Betts, generally perceived in the media as all around nice and humble guy, and also a champion bowler, for saving some money, two minors prospects, and Alex Verdugo.

Credit for the original shirt goes to somebody on either the MLB or Red Sox design teams I would assume. The annotations are, of course, my own work.

When Is an Opener Game in Baseball Really Just a Bullpen Game?

Whenever someone not named Eovaldi or Perez starts a Red Sox game in 2020, that’s when.

We all know the Red Sox are the worst team in the American League. They have only two starters, maybe sometimes a third. And then the last two days of the regular five-day rotation cycle, manager Ron Roenicke throws some relievers at the wall and sees which ones stick that night. Spoiler: Few do.

But as much as I enjoy listening to the three-man broadcasting booth (Remy and Eck make the games fun to at least listen to) the games are unwatchable. And then to hear them try and dress a game up as having an opener? Well, what is the opener?

For the non-baseball fans, most are probably aware enough that some guy goes out to a small hill and throws (pitches) a ball at a batter for most of the night. Then towards the end, when the guy’s energy wanes, he is replaced by some guy who throws really fast. That’s over simplified, but that’s a normal ballgame. A starting pitcher records five, but ideally at least six, innings of work before handing the ball over to an eighth-inning setup man and then a ninth-inning closer. Sometimes a really good seventh-inning reliever sets up the setup man.

A bullpen game, by contrast, is when a bunch of those relief pitchers handle the entire game. Usually this would be after a game went into extra innings (since baseball cannot end in a tie, unless you’re in an All Star game), and the next day’s starting pitcher had to finish the long game by pitching several innings. With nobody available to throw six innings, a bunch of relievers come in and try to cover that by pitching one, two, or three innings each.

The opener game is relatively new. The idea is in addition to the really good closer, a really good opener records the first inning or two (3–6 outs) to deal with the opposing team’s best hitters. He then hands the ball over to a mediocre starting pitcher who throws the next four or five innings, who then hands the ball over to the late-inning relief specialists. Doing it this way, the starter avoids one set of at-bats or plate appearances by the opposition’s best hitters.

But when is an opener just a bullpen game? Well, it’s when that mediocre starting pitcher isn’t really a starting pitcher. And when he doesn’t even throw four or five innings. Basically all the Red Sox games this year.

I made a graphic this morning to contrast those different types of games and compare them to a game I watched two nights ago between the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The game was teed up as an opener with a good relief pitcher by the name of Ryan Brasier starting the first inning. But then instead of a mediocre starter pitching four or five innings, we got a mediocre reliever pitching three innings. He handed it over to a guy who was supposed to go maybe two, but couldn’t get through his second inning. He handed it over to another guy, who handed it over to another guy, who handed it over to a final guy. And none of those last guys were the good relievers you would typically expect to see. (Though, to be fair, the Sox weren’t winning, so why use your best relievers?)

What is an opener and how does it compare to a bullpen game?
Different game types compared

Credit for the piece is mine.

Credit for the Red Sox dumpster fire of a season goes to John Henry and ownership.

Red Sox Starting Rotation: A Dumpster Fire in a Dumpster Fire Year

Baseball for the Red Sox starts on Friday. Am I glad baseball is back? Yes?

I love the sport and will be glad that it’s back on the air to give me something to watch. But the But the way it’s being done boggles the mind. Here today I don’t want to get into the Covid, health, and labour relations aspect of the game. But, as the title suggests, I want to look at a graphic that looks at just how bad the Red Sox could be this (shortened) year. And over at FiveThirtyEight, they created a model to evaluate teams’ starting rotations on an ongoing basis.

The Red Sox are just bad.
Look at the Red Sox, one of the worst in baseball.

Form wise, this isn’t too difficult than what we looked at yesterday. It’s a dot plot with the dots representing individual pitchers. The size of the dots represents their number of total starts. This is an important metric in their model, but as we all know size is a difficult attribute for people to compare and I’m not entirely convinced it’s working here. Some dots are clearly smaller than others, but for most it’s difficult for me to clearly tell.

Colour is just tied to the colour of the teams. Necessary? Not at all. Because the teams are not compared on the same plot, they could all be the same colour. If, however, an eventual addition were made that plot the day’s matchups on one line, then colour would be very much appropriate.

I like the subtle addition of “Better” at the top of the plots to help the user understand the constructed metric. Otherwise the numbers are just that, numbers that don’t mean anything.

Overall a solid piece. And it does a great job of showing just how awful the Red Sox starting rotation is going to be. Because I know who Nate Eovaldi is. And I’ve heard of Martin Perez. Ryan Weber I only know through largely pitching in relief last year. And after that? Well, not on this graphic, but we have Eduardo Rodriguez who had corona and, while he has recovered, nobody knows how that will impact people in sports. There’s somebody named Hall who I have never heard of. Then we have Brian Johnson, a root for the guy story of beating the odds to reach the Major Leagues but who has been inconsistent. Then…it is literally a list of relief pitchers.

We dumped the salary of Mookie Betts and David Price and all we got was basically a tee-shirt saying “We still need a pitcher or three”.

Credit for the piece goes to Jay Boice.

The Mookie Betts Trade

Apologies for the lack of posting the last few months. There are several things going on in my life right now that have prevented me from focusing on Coffee Spoons as much as I would like. I will endeavour to resume posting, but it might not be the daily schedule it had been for at least a little while longer.

Onwards and downwards to the title—one of the dumbest, stupidest, worstest things the Boston Red Sox have done. At least in my lifetime. But also probably in all time. Except Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Also dumb. I’m so upset by this trade I’m using my words good.

The Red Sox had some financial difficulties, or so they claimed. Their payroll was one of the highest in baseball and was over an arbitrary line called the luxury tax, above which teams incur penalties. Repeat offenders pay increased fines, lose draft picks, &c. Boston was a repeat offender and was set to be again with several large contracts on the books.

Instead of sucking it up for a year and fielding a competitive team, the Red Sox dumped a huge chunk of their salary by trading away their star player, maybe baseball’s second best, and their second best pitcher. For a good, not great, outfielder, a fringe-y second baseman, and an even fringier catcher. But mostly they got salary relief. And the 2020 Sox are going to be painful to watch.

Anyway, I made a graphic about this complete suckfest. Because it sucks.

Suckfest 2020.
Suckfest 2020.

Credit for this awfulness goes to Chaim Bloom, the new president of Red Sox baseball operations. But the graphic is mine.

Whom to Root for in the Playoffs

This week I covered a lot of Red Sox stuff. (And I received some great feedback from people, so maybe more baseball-related stats things will be forthcoming.) But, since it is Friday, I wanted to keep today late. So over breakfast I worked on a flowchart to help you choose whom to root for in the playoffs now that Boston, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Washington, and Cleveland have all been eliminated.

To be fair, my second choice was good old Terry Francona and the Indians (like last year). But, the Evil Empire is returning.

Happy Friday, all.

But did you catch the overarching theme?
But did you catch the overarching theme?

Power Sapped

Following on yesterday’s post about the Red Sox offence, I wanted to follow up and look into their power numbers. So here we have a smaller scale graphic. Nothing too fancy, but the data backs what my eyes saw all year. A definite power drain up and down the Red Sox lineup in 2017.

Where did all the power go?
Where did all the power go?

The Red Sox Offence in 2017

Like I said yesterday, the Red Sox season is over. And the coverage on offseason needs began in the morning papers. But I wanted to follow up on the data from yesterday and delve a bit more deeply into the offence.

Yes, we know it was roughly league average across the team. And we know it took a hit with David Ortiz’s retirement at the end of last year. But what happened? Well, I took those same OPS+ numbers for the starting nine and compared 2017 to 2016. I then looked further back to see how those same players performed throughout their careers (admittedly I skipped Hanley Ramirez’s 2 plate appearances in 2005.)

You should take a look at the full graphic, but the short version, pretty much everyone had an off year. And when everyone has an off year, it is a pretty safe bet the team will have an off year.

You can't all take a break…
You can’t all take a break…