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Archive for the tag “Hiroki Kuroda”

Happy Lackey Day

Photo coutesy of bostonherald.com

Every single day you spend on this earth is a gift. But some gifts are simply better than others.

John Lackey will toe the rubber for the first place Red Sox today at 4:05 PM, and things just couldn’t be better.

Kind of crazy, right?

Clay Buchholz, far and away the most talented pitcher on the staff, has pitched 18.2 innings in the past two months. Your Opening Day starter, Jon Lester, has been worse than a league average hurler. Lester’s ERA has ballooned since his hot start to this season and now sits at a bulbous 4.58.

And yet, the Red Sox are 59-39. In first place. Playing north of .600 baseball.

Huh?

It really is quite remarkable how the team has been able to sustain such a high level of success without Buchholz pitching and with Lester being relatively bad at baseball.

Last night’s starter, Felix Doubront, deserves a great deal of credit (I could write a separate piece on how fun it has been to watch the young lefty right the ship after a dreadful start to the season. Check out his numbers since May 16. Go ahead. I’ll wait). But it is Lackey who has assumed the role of Team Ace. He is the horse. He is the stopper.

Since May 19, Lackey has made 11 starts, roughly a third of a starting pitcher’s season. In those games, Big John Stud compiled a 2.32 ERA while punching out 66 batters in 73.2 innings. During the stretch, Lackey has held opposing hitters to a stingy .219 average.

He passes the eye test too. The burly right hander looks in command on the mound, dotting his fastball and going to his secondary stuff when necessary. Lackey’s delivery is free and easy. To put it simply, he is pitching with a healthy arm that he trusts. An argument can be made that this is the first time Lackey’s pitched pain-free since arriving in Boston in 2010.

When Big John takes the mound today at Fenway against the New York Yankees, he will bring with him a 2.78 ERA, a mark that is good for fourth among American League starting pitchers. He trails only the great Felix Hernandez, the portly Bartolo Colon, and the superb Hiroki Kuroda.

In years past, Sunday night’s C.C. Sabathia, Lester matchup would be tabbed as the best duel of the series. But not this summer. Not this series.

Instead, it is Lackey taking on Kuroda today at a steamy Fenway Park, and it should be a lot of fun.

Update: Lester will not pitch Sunday night. Dempster will go in his place in order to get the lefty a bit more rest.

Red Sox, Yankees, and the Importance of Pitching

Photo via bostonglobe.com

Have the Yankees gotten outstanding performances from throwaways like Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay? Absolutely.

But that doesn’t tell the real story behind their surprising 30-23 start to the season–a season where the shiny toys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez have spent most, if not all of their time, collecting dust on the shelf. Hell, even their band-aid third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, has spent quite some time on the disabled list (he’s made just 72 plate appearances).

It’s much more fun to talk about Hafner and Crew, but in reality, it has been the Yankees’ pitching that has stepped up in the absence of so much offensive firepower. C.C. Sabathia has been reasonably good. Hiroki Kuroda who is roughly 100-years old has been stellar as the Yanks’ early season ace, and their bullpen, especially the backend, has been quite effective with David Robertson and the ageless Mariano Rivera serving as the anchors.

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have hit relatively well in 2013. Heading into the weekend, the Red Sox league Major League Baseball in runs scored at 274. The Yankees? 218. The Twins have plated more runs than the Bronx Bombers, while playing in two less games.

The Yankees, despite lacking the usual amount of thump in their lineup, have been able to win a bunch of games because of their pitching. They are tied for second in the American League with the Tigers in team ERA at 3.66. That’s pretty darn good. And the Red Sox are right there with their rivals. A team ERA of 3.79 in the AL East is nothing to be ashamed of.

These two teams meet this weekend for the first time since Opening Day. The Red Sox in first. The Yankees in second. They’ve won a combined 63 games, and it is due in large part to guys like Sabathia, Kuroda, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. It’s fitting that all four of them are scheduled to pitch over the next three nights.

It should be fun.

Road Tripping

Photo via cbssports.com

After a 13-0 win, starting the season 4-2, and doing it against the Yankees and Blue Jays, it is tough to complain about the Red Sox. A team that desperately needed a positive start to the season, the Sox have certainly answered the call. I’ll be at the home opener on Monday, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch this team in-person.

After six games, here are some of my initial observations.

Jon Lester looks good. His outing against the Yankees was nothing write home about, but it certainly wasn’t a poor start. He minimized the damage when he got in trouble and gave his team a chance to win the game. The Red Sox offense staked Lester to a lead on Sunday, and he never let the Jays believe they were in the game. Lester is my MVP of the road trip. Here’s why: 12 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 13 K. Two wins.

— He went 0-5 in the season opener, but Mike Napoli has started to heat up. More importantly, he’s been showing off some of his impressive power. His hip condition seemingly has not affected his play. Nap will head to Fenway with two home runs on the season.

Shane Victorino has proven me wrong. I know that Spring Training (and World Baseball Classic) stats don’t matter, but Victorino was especially bad this spring. Since the start of the regular season? It’s be a 180 for the right fielder. After Sunday, Victorino has collected eight hits on the young season. He’s not slugging, but he’s contributing night in and night out.

Will Middlebrooks has to potential to be legitimate source of power for this team. It’s easy to say that after witnessing him go bridge three times on Sunday, but it was his opposite field home run off of R.A. Dickey that really impressed. He’s a strong kid.

— Don’t let Sunday’s power surge fool you, the Red Sox need David Ortiz back. I actually like the lineup from top to the bottom, but the middle of the order lacks the muscle of traditional Sox lineups. When Ortiz is ready to come back, he will not only help instill some pop in the middle of the order, but his presence will help balance things out as everyone will be able to move down a spot.

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s torrid spring has not spilled over into the regular season. He’s been good defensively is getting on-base, so it’s not like this experiment has been a failure. There’s been some chatter about sending him down to Pawtucket. This is what I wanted to avoid when the JBJ debate was at its peak. I don’t see why you’d want to treat a prospect like a yo-yo. When he is ready, bring him up. And when you bring him up, understand that struggles and slumps are unavoidable. Nevertheless, it’s likely he will be in Pawtucket at some point this season.

— So far this season, the Red Sox have won games started by C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson, and Dickey. It’s nice to do well against good pitching. They’ll get Wei-Yin Chen tomorrow at Fenway Park.

Power Plays

Photo via mlive.com

On Wednesday, the Red Sox officially addressed an area of surplus. They have a closer. Andrew Bailey is injury-plagued. There is no debating that. But he is a legitimate ninth inning pitcher, a former All-Star with 81 saves on his resume. The bottom line is that GM Ben Cherington did not need to bring in a proven closer this offseason.

But he did.

Joel Hanrahan was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a six-player swap that will also send reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox still have not come to terms with free agent Mike Napoli, leaving a vacancy at first base. They remain shallow in the outfield with Jonny Gomes likely needing a platoon-mate that can do damage against hit right handed pitching. Clearly, Cherington still has several areas of need to address, yet he chose to actively pursue adding a late-inning arm to a bullpen that already has Bailey and Koji Uehara.

Why?

The answer has everything to do with Daniel Bard.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Red Sox possessed two of the game’s absolute best in the eighth and ninth innings. Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were a powerful one-two punch that helped former manager Terry Francona win more than a few games during the final segment of his tenure in Boston. Both Bard and Papelbon threw hard and threw strikes. The pair represented exactly what every team wants at the end of games.

In the offseason that followed the 2011 season, Papelbon left Boston for Philadelphia. Bard, who, despite fatiguing down the stretch for the Red Sox in ’11, seemed tailor-made for the closer role in 2012. His powerful stuff played well in the late innings of ballgames. Fans were used to watching him wiggle out of high leverage situations, using his fastball that consistently registered well above 95 MPH to blow away hitters on the regular.

But then the Red Sox got cheap, and Bard got a little greedy.

Cherington and the rest of baseball operations understood the potential payoff of converting Bard to a starter. Let’s face it — Bard made roughly $1.6MM in 2012. Good luck getting Hiroki Kuroda to pitch for your team for that salary. At the same time, Bard knew that starting pitchers do not need to pitch at the level of a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw to get paid. Pick up the phone and give Edwin Jackson a buzz. He will tell you all about his four-year $52MM deal that the Cubs gave him last week.

It was a perfect storm. Bard wanted to start, and the Red Sox saw it as a cost-efficient opportunity to fill a vacancy in the rotation.

Bard performed miserably as a starter. His outing on Sunday June 3 in Toronto was the breaking point of the experiment. In an inning and two-thirds, Bard walked six Blue Jays and plunked two others. It was like watching the goriest of horror movies, when one is only able to catch a glimpse of the television screen between fingers as their hands shielded their face. It was that bad. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately earned Bard a demotion to Pawtucket and a question mark when it comes to where he fits on this team in 2013.

The Red Sox subsequently spent their second straight offseason looking for ways to plug the gaping holes left by both Papelbon and Bard. Had the latter embraced the role of closer in the same fashion the former did, the Red Sox would likely not be participating in the annual game of bullpen pick ‘em. If Cherington and Co. had recognized that Bard’s stuff as well as his mentality is best suited at the end of ballgames, Hanrahan may not have been a trade target this offseason.

Removing Bard from the bullpen created quite a large void for the Red Sox–one that was only amplified by his abject failure as a starter. Since then, Cherington has been searching for that power arm that is almost always needed at the end of games. Simply put, swing and miss stuff limits the amount of balls that are put in play, and Bard certainly racked up a great deal of punch outs as a set-up man.

The addition of Hanrahan is yet another example of how poor baseball decisions can negatively impact a club for years down the road. Hanrahan’s performance in 2013, good or bad, will serve as a reminder of how sorely Bard is missed in the Boston bullpen and how desperately Cherington has searched for someone to anchor it.

Quick Hits

winter meetings

  • The Red Sox inked Mike Napoli to a three-year $39MM deal on Monday. An excellent signing for GM Ben Cherington. Some will say that the Sox overpaid for the right handed hitter, but who cares? Seriously. It’s about the number of years, not the number of dollars. Rejoice, Red Sox fans.
  • Towards the end of the last offseason, the Red Sox were restricted by their payroll. They couldn’t offer enough to entice Hiroki Kuroda or Edwin Jackson to come to Boston. Thanks to the Dodgers, things have changed. Look for Cherington to be patient in regards to the free agent pitching market. A guy like Shaun Marcum will be an interesting option come January, if he’s not signed earlier. I believe the Red Sox will find a quality starting pitcher or two after Christmas.
  • Despite the fact that Cherington acted relatively quick in signing Napoli, Sox fans should still expect their team to exhibit patience as the free agent market unfolds during the winter. Typically, that’s how the diamonds are found in the rough.

Yankees Assume Upper Hand

Photo via usintoday.com

By now, it is no secret that the Yankees’ front office put together quite a nice Friday evening. Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi were shipped from the Bronx in exchange for Seattle’s Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. John Heyman first reported the deal when it went official. Less than sixty minutes later, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Bombers had also inked free agent Hiroki Kuroda to a one year deal worth $10MM. And I thought dinner and a movie was a solid Friday night.

It is rare for two teams to come together to make a deal that involve young studs like Montero and Pineda, both of whom have proven that they are  primed to succeed in the big leagues.

Montero just turned 22 in November. He is a catcher who hits an absolute ton. Scouts have questioned Montero’s defensive abilities. Given the fact that teams often to choose to protect offensive assets, like Montero, from the rigors of being an everyday catcher, it is likely that the former Yankee finds himself at DH more often than not. Before making his Major League debut against the Red Sox towards the end of 2011, Montero was the coveted prospect in the Yankees’ system. It did not take long to see why the boys from the Bronx liked him so much. In only 69 at bats, Montero collected four homeruns and posted an OPS of .996. Not bad for a 21 year old kid in limited action. The success of the trade for the Mariners may hinge on Montero’s ability to develop defensively and their willingness to put him behind the dish. Catchers who hit are a precious commodity around baseball, while designated hitters are far less valuable.

Pineda is a young right handed flame thrower. He possesses an intimidating presence on the mound. The former Mariner is 6’7″ tall and has a body that looks it is built to sustain a 30+ start season. Pineda’s big league sample size is larger than Montero. As a rookie, he made 28 starts, notched a 3.74 ERA, and struck out 173 batters. He undoubtedly wore down in the latter half of 2011, but that is to be expected. Pineda’s only start against the Red Sox was not a good one for the young righty. He went 4.1 innings and gave up seven earned runs in a late July outing. Nevertheless, Pineda is flat out good, and the best part for New York is his contract situation. He is under team control through 2016.

From Seattle’s perspective, the deal made sense. The Mariners organization churns out quality starting pitching as a hobby to pass the time, and Montero looks like he is a stone cold middle of the order lock for years to come. It should be fun to watch both he and Dustin Ackley team up in the Seattle lineup.

The Yankees have a group of mashers. They’re not going to miss Montero’s bat too much this year. Although it’s not a reason to pursue a deal, Montero’s departure opens up the DH spot which will allow Joe Girardi to provide his aging players a respite from time to time. The acquisition of Pineda is just plain solid. He struck out 9.1 batters per nine frames in his rookie season. Getting consistent swings and misses is absolutely vital to maintaining consistent success in the AL East. Anytime a team is able to add a young quality starting pitcher who is under control for several years, it is usually a win.

The Kuroda signing will probably get more attention than it deserves. He will turn 37 next month, and has spent his four year Major League career pitching in the NL West. It will be at least a point of interest to see how he adjusts to hitter-friendly ballparks, the designated hitter, and the east coast–a place he did not want to go as recent as the 2011 trade deadline. However, the Yankees are not going to ask him to be more than a middle of the rotation guy in a suddenly stacked staff.

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I do not believe that Friday’s moves by the Yankees will have much of an effect on how the Red Sox approach the remainder of the offseason. According to Mark Polishuk of mlbtraderumors.com, the Kuroda signing was approved by ownership. In other words, GM Brian Cashman will not need to find a way to move a player or two to accommodate Kuroda’s salary. If the Red Sox were to make a run at a pitcher like Roy Oswalt, Ben Cherington would likely need to same approval from John Henry.

The Red Sox apprehension to pull the trigger on a one year deal for a pitcher like Oswalt or Kuroda is a bit troubling. It did not seem like it was very long ago when the Sox would have leaped at an opportunity to sign a one year deal for a relatively quality starting pitcher. I loathe multiyear deals just like the Red Sox, but a one year pact carries little risk.

This is coming from the guy who didn’t think the Red Sox were going to do anything big last offseason, so take it for what it is worth, but I can’t see Cherington relinquishing the load of top tier prospects that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will likely demand for Matt Garza. The Cubs certainly do not need to trade the right handed starter. Consequently, they have all of the leverage in a potential deal.

The addition of Kuroda to the Yankees’ staff shrinks the market for Edwin Jackson. Could Scott Boras cut his losses this offseason and allow Jackson to sign a one year deal (a la Ryan Madson, Adrian Beltre)? Time will tell. If the Red Sox brass chooses to open their wallet a bit wider, it will be because the asking price for available starting pitching decreases and patience by Cherington pays off, not because the Yankees had a productive Friday night in mid-January.

Thank you to baseballreference.com for providing the statistics used in this entry.

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