Friday, April 27, 2007

THE DRAFT WHISPERER

Every year everyone seems to make the same mistakes in trying to come up with who the Patriots draft. Logan Mankins? Even Mel Kiper was shocked he was a first round pick, and now he is the star of that draft class. Even last year, the Pats got beat-up on draft day and the days afterwards for drafting Laurence Maroney in the first round when NOBODY had the Pats taking a running back. How about the Pats being stuck with Ty Warren, instead of moving up for their supposed target Jonathan Sullivan or being ridiculed for holding pat while the Jets made the bold move to trade up and get Dwayne Robertson (it is official, everyone in the NFL would rather have Warren at this point as he dominated from week one through the AFC Championship last season). Remember the chuckling by the draft gurus when the Patriots went out on a limb and drafted Ben Watson? Forget that, does anyone remember when I blasted Belichick for drafting a defensive lineman (some fat guy with an attitude problem and bad work ethic named Seymour) instead of the sexy pick of wide receiver David Terrell? I believe I said something about if he was dumb enough to draft Tommy Vardell, a fullback, in the first round at Cleveland, I believed he could screw up the number six pick in New England. OK, Rickles remembers, but I think the memory suppression drops worked on everyone else.

Since then, EVERYONE has struggled to predict who would jump off the board for New England. Would it be a position of need? A position of strength? Best available? A trade down? A trade up? Someone no one has heard of? The free-faller? The sleeper? Another Florida wide receiver? A tip from an old assistant coach? A tip from a friend of a friend of his father? The only person in the media I think could possibly fathom what Belichick and Scott Pioli would do is someone plugged in, like Mike Reiss perhaps. Reiss has been running his lists of possibilities in the Globe and on his blog (Reiss’ Pieces), but even with this info it seems difficult to fathom.

My thoughts? A trade down with 24 to the second round (and also picking up a mid-round 2008 pick) and a trade-out with 28 picking up a 2008 1st and a third round pick.

* * *

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WEEKEND HANGOVER

Whew. One series down against the Yankees, and so far so good. The Yankees showed what they are: an extremely talented offensive team (especially 1 through 7) with a gigantic hole at first base, an old starting rotation that is constantly on the verge of breakdown (Pettite still has two trips to the DL scheduled before the season is over), and a bullpen that is already over-taxed by the end of April. For all the goodwill generated by A-Rod this April (wait, was he not the MVP in 2005? How many teams would enthusiastically take his down year last season? How about ALL of them!), the fact that his super-human April has carried them to a .500 record shows only how frustrating the Yankees are this season.

For the Red Sox, they took the best shot the Yankees had in them and still got the sweep. The Yankees should have won Friday night. No doubt about it. Hands-down a total choke job. Forget the Mariano Rivera is done talk. It is still early, he will work out his mechanical concerns and be over-worked by August. That said, the Sox stole that game. Regular Joe Torre managed the game (in APRIL!) like it was the playoffs (that is why I call him Regular Joe, because he is all about winning the regular season AL East title. Burn the bullpen and gas the starters, Regular Joe is safe as long as they finish first). Compare that to Terry Francona who handed the ball to Hideki Okajima Saturday night and was rewarded for his confidence in him.

Sunday night was the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run show. The fact that no one at ESPN could get the facts until after a commercial break to idiot Joe Morgan (FireJoeMorgan.com: where is the Sunday night smackdown? Come on Ken Tremendous, we want the ridicule!) or the tremendously talented Jon Miller that the Dodgers did it last September is very poor work by the usually consistently good job done by ESPN baseball programming. A funny story about back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers: when I was 12 and on the Middleboro Little League All-Star Team (that would be about 1986), we were at a tournament and we pulled that off. The poor weak-hitting second baseman that came up after the four homers and grounded-out? Yup, yours truly. So Wily Mo, I know the pain of ruining a streak like that. I feel your pain, Big Guy.

The surprise for me this weekend was the bat speed shown by Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek. Maybe these greybeards only needed the weather to jump above bone-rattling cold to get in gear. Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp looked dynamic: let me get on record right now and say those two guys belong at 1-2 in the order. Put Youkilis after Lowell at 7 and push Varitek down to 8. Also, Dustin Pedroia looked good Sunday night getting his hacks in. THAT was the Dusty-boy who climbed quickly up the minors.

All told, it is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too early to get too excited about the weekend sweep. But if the Sox continue to build on it this week and next weekend, they can stake out a little breathing room going into May that will keep the negative energies away from them for a while.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I LOVE NEW YORK

OK, that is a bold-faced lie. But I want to have good karma going into the three game set with the Yankees this weekend.

One big advantage the Yankees have is that with two relative unknowns throwing, expect the Sox bats to be flailing about wildly. For whatever reason, pitchers without much MLB experience (and scouting info, I guess) give the Sox fits. Now they have two against the Yankees this weekend.

Of course, the MVP of April, Old A-Rod himself, should be pumped and jacked for the three game set. Of course, this is a contract year for Slappy McHamburgerHelper, so the numbers will be there. Provided the Yankees slug their way to the post-season, another fold by A-Rod will not hurt him in free agency. Yes, he is a Scott Boras client, so you can bet he will be on the open market.

The Red Sox merely need to keep pitching. Their starters have been very good, but it is way too early to get too excited. It will be interesting to see how Schilling, Beckett, & Matsuzaka handle the deep and relentless Yankees batting order.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dice-Ked

A rough night for Sox viewing, as the wind and rain beat down on the Bent homestead, I reclined in bed flipping from VH1 Classic and their Making the Album show on the classic U2 album (and favorite of my 3 year old daughter) The Joshua Tree and the Red Sox facing the ever-pesky (and not in a Johnny Pesky kind of way) Toronto Blue Jays in the quickly out-of-style Sky Dome or Rogers Center, or is it Centre, or whatever they call it nowadays. Suffice to say, the Sox batters against Gustavo Chacin looked about as excited as Bono looked back in the studio with Daniel Lanois. I swear Bono was wearing the shades indoors just to grab a quick nap.

Daisuke (or should he be always referred to as Dice-K?) had one rough inning sandwiched around some dominating innings. I believe it is far too early in the season to worry about piddling issues such as locating pitches while pitching from the stretch, being rattled by a non-strike three call, or Julio Lugo not picking that rocket-blast single (note: A-Gon would not have had it either), I do believe that more good came out of how he bounced back from that inning and looked good in the next two innings.

Hideki Okajima looked great coming in to strike out the side as well. The disappointment was the Sox not being able to score runs on the road against a lefty. Chacin ALWAYS beats the Sox, but then, so do most lefties (think Ted Lilly).

The best post-script: No flying pizza.

Monday, April 16, 2007

OUT OF ACTION

I have been on the DL like I was a Yankees pitcher and need to get my notes and quick hits for the past week up online:

The King:

Everyone laughed at me when I picked King Felix Hernandez, who was 12-14 in 2006, in both my fantasy leagues. Now, I am seriously considering trading him since his value is at the max. Of course, with my top pick in both leagues, Albert Pujols, at .188 batting average, it is no wonder I am so desperate for offense.

Bye-Bye to the Franchise:

Dust off the old garish light blue mid-nineties Patriots jersey number eleven, True Red White and Blue Drew has hung up his spikes. NFL Hall of Famer? No. Patriots Hall of Famer? Definitely. Having lived through the Victor Kiam era, how does one calculate the impact of Parcells and Bledsoe on the franchise (though most credit belongs with the Krafts)? Both belong in the team hall of fame. For a great article on why Drew is not a hall of famer, despite 4 or 5 hall of fame seasons, check out Don Banks at SI.com.

Rutgers:

Wait, Imus was still on the radio? How is brother Fred going to hock his merchandise? Is this the end of Kinky Friedman as a national best-seller?

Rain Delays:

What a spring for rain and snow. Do not know if I can handle going days in between Sox games. The only good news is that Julian Tavarez is still sitting instead of starting.

The English are coming!

One if by land and two if by sea, perhaps three if on the football pitch?

The UEFA Champions’ League semifinals of 2007 are Premiership-heavy, with two of the hottest clubs coming back from tough situations in the first leg of the quarterfinals to advance to the next round. The lone non-English club, AC Milan, also came back with a 2-0 win in an unfriendly Munich arena to dispatch of Bayern Munich and advance to play ManU. The Red Devils should never be taken lightly, as Sir alex Ferguson’s side has shown us all vs. Roma this past week. Roma looked in good position, but the highly highly talented ManU squad, even with injuries and suspensions to key players, thoroughly embarrassed the giallorossi 7-1 at Old Trafford. Roma took a 2-1 advantage to Manchester with hopes of advancing, perhaps anticipating defending a desparate ManU attack on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the ManU attack proved to be too much to handle as the Red Devils jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first half. The question turned from "What will Sir Alex do if ManU are eliminated?" to "Will Cristiano Ronaldo or Michael Carrick score hat tricks?" Even youngster Alan Smith, getting his first Champions’ League start, got in on the scoring action. Roma, dealing with some key injuries and suspensions themselves, were outplayed from the start, with captain Francesco Totti, aiming to make Sir alex Ferguson, "remember who is Totti," not putting on any dazzling display on the pitch, really for either leg of the quarterfinal. ManU advances easily, and are still my personal favorites to win the whole thing this year.

Chelsea were also up against it in the second leg of the quarterfinal vs. Valencia. Valencia had escaped Stamford Bridge with a 1-1 draw, and were heavy favorites at home. It looked like Chelsea would go quietly in the first half as Fernando Morientes netted a goal to put Valencia ahead 2-1 on the aggregate. However, in the second half, the much-maligned Andrei Schevchenko netted the equalizer that would, at the time, at least send the game to extra time. No need, says the Blues’ Michael Essien, as he netted the proverbial dagger in the heart of the Valencia supporters with a goal in stoppage time to advance Chelsea into the semifinals to face Liverpool.

Liverpool quietly finished off PSV Eindhoven at Anfield with a 1-0 win (4-0 aggregate) to advance. Now the table is set, and this year’s Champions’ league, which has definitely not disappointed and been abound with very exciting matches, is ready to play out over the course of the next two months. If you’re in the Kendall Square area of Cambridge, come find me at Tommy Doyle’s pub watching the Champions’ League final on May 25th. I’ll likely be one of the many guys in the ManU shirt.

Blackburn falling:
The hopes of returning to European competition for my Blackburn Rovers are looking slim, as they went down in Ewood Park to an underachieving Aston Villa side 2-1. Benni McCarthy, a star for the future of Blackburn (hopefully!) netted an early penalty shot, but after that, not much happened to the Rovers’ offense and they get another late-season loss to a club that they should have defeated. The Rovers’ hopes of going back to Europe rest on one, and potentially two matches, one going on as I type this. Blackburn are down 1-0 in the first half of FA Cup action vs. Chelsea. Frank Lampard has put the Blues ahead in the 16th minute. Time will tell if Blackburn has the firepower to come back and advance to play ManU in the finals, another difficult challenge.

On the plus side, the Rovers’ star goalkeeper, the American Brad Friedel, is signed on for another year at Ewood Park. Blackburn have a good core group of players, with Friedel, Ryan Nelsen, Stephen Warnock, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Tugay, Benni McCarthy, and the young striker Matt Derbyshire. It would behoove them to add some serious depth to the club so they are not relying on Sergio Peter or Stephane Henchoz to come off the bench and close out games or fill in for injred players. One possibility would be to purchase the services of Darren Bent from Charlton Athletic, especially if the Addicks are unable to avoid the drop. The Bent/McCarthy combination has the potential to be lethal, and could keep the Rovers’ heading to a promising future. Mark Hughes, no doubt, will make some good moves in the offseason to bolster the Rovers’ squad. Perhaps next season, Blackburn won’t lose to the relegation battlers like we have seen this year, with losses at Watford and a season sweep by the lowly West Ham Hammers.

The Revs are back:

The post-Clint Dempsey era begins at Gillette Stadium for the New England Revolution. They opened up with a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire, two weeks ago, and it looked as if they Revs were not destined for championship contention this year. Saturday night, the Revs flexed their offensive muscles on the expansion club Toronto FC, beating them 4-0, led by 2 goals from Taylor Twellman. All is not lost, and perhaps the Revs can defy the odds to perhaps face the Donovan/Beckham tandem of the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup finals this year.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Red Sox Roster Review

OK, I admit I have no secret sabermetric formula or scientific basis for these picks. Heck, I cannot even say I got them from Friedman via a hobo in Baltimore or that Brigs gave them to me from a formula based on the number of protozoa in an individual Petri dish for Sox player, so I will give what the fantastic PECOTA projections courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com (as of 3/30/07) and then what my gut says:

Starting Rotation:

Curt Schilling:
PECOTA says: 14-8 3.84 ERA 158 Ks
The big beer gut says: 15-10 4.25 ERA 135 Ks
PECOTA seems pretty dead-on here. He certainly did nothing to show he is ready to jump back to a 20 game winner in spring training or opening day. The strikeouts will be down, that is the nature of a 40 year old pitcher. The Big Schill is a solid #2 or #3 guy at this stage of his career.

Daisuke Matsuzaka:
PECOTA says: 13-7 4.17 ERA 162 Ks
The big beer gut says: 19-5 3.25 ERA 190 Ks
PECOTA will sell the phenomenon short. Heck, everyone will. Like it or not Yankees fans, this guy is the real deal. This guy is Pedro back when Pedro was Pedro. I do not think I need to keep harping on about Daisuke, but this guy would be the odds-on favorite for Cy Young this year if not for…

Josh Beckett:
PECOTA says: 12-8 4.29 ERA 144 Ks
The big beer gut says: 21-7 3.25 ERA 175 Ks
This is the season everyone sees why the Sox valued the Big Lunk over A.J. Burnett, personal favorite of Owner John Henry. When Beckett was on last year, he was one of the top three pitchers in the game. The problem was when he was off, which was about 6 or 7 starts, and he could not get his off-speed stuff over the plate, he was hammered. This year, I expect Beckett to be more consistent and much more dominant. This is the year of the Beckett!

Tim Wakefield:
PECOTA says: 11-8 4.59 ERA 103 Ks
The big beer gut says: 9-12 5.00 ERA 100 Ks
Sorry, but I think the Shakey Wakey one has passed on his usefulness. Listen, I love the idea of a knuckleballer in the rotation, but Wakey is inconsistent. I think what the Sox really need is a knuckleball specialist on staff, or at least on call, who can work with Wakey and Charlie Zink in the minors. Someone like Phil Niekro who can go over mechanics and strategy with him, keep his grip and release in line, and pass on some pointers and support on a regular basis. Right now, I would rather see Kyle Snyder in the rotation over Wakefield.

Julian Tavarez:
PECOTA says: 6-7 5.60 ERA 63 Ks
The big beer gut says: SAME
Yeah, not a huge fan of Tavarez in the rotation. Bring on Lester, Gabbard and Snyder!

Jon Lester:
PECOTA says: 6-6 5.00 ERA 85 Ks
The big beer gut says: 9-3 4.00 ERA 85 Ks
Lester will be back earlier, and pitch better, than projections. This kid has cajones, and the comeback from cancer will just be the icing on the cake as he jumps in and saves the rotation.

Matt Clement:
PECOTA says: 6-6 5.04 ERA 76 Ks
The big beer gut says: SAME
I would like to see Clement come back and be the pre-beaning 2005 Clement, which I still think he will, but not until 2008.

Kyle Snyder:
PECOTA says: 6-6 4.95 ERA 68 Ks
The big beer gut says: 10-6 4.00 ERA 100 Ks
As you can discern from the above rambling, I am big on Snyder. Health and confidence will do a lot for a guy who has scrapped for a while to get healthy and is ready to step-up and let his stuff do the talking.

Kason Gabbard:
PECOTA say: 6-7 5.48 ERA 76 Ks
The big beer gut says: 2-0 1.50 ERA 10 Ks
With a little luck, Gabbard can pitch the entire season in AAA for Pawtucket and be ready to join the rotation in 2008.

Bullpen:

Jonathan Papelbon:
PECOTA says: 5-4 3.04 ERA 29 SVs
The big beer gut says: 5-4 2.50 ERA 40 SVs
I still am in the minority to say Papelbon belongs in the rotation and that anyone can be plugged into the closer role. That said, expect the usual domination from Big Country at the end of the bullpen.

Joel Pineiro:
PECOTA says: 4-3 4.09 ERA 3 SVs
The big beer gut says: SAME
Pineiro could close. I still believe. That said, once he gets out of April, he should be a grade A set-up man.

Mike Timlin:
PECOTA says: 2-2 4.00 ERA 2 SVs
The big beer gut says: Yeah, pretty close.
Hell, all these middle reliever should look about the same as Timlin here…forget the rest of this crap for the bullpen as far as Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero, Hideki Okajima, and Javier Lopez.

Infield:

David Ortiz, designated hitter:
PECOTA says: .289 41 133 .983 OBPS
The big beer gut says: Dead-on
Big Papi just keeps rolling. I still say they need to throw him out to 1B every once in a while to keep him motivated and happy.

Jason Varitek, catcher:
PECOTA says: .274 14 57 .810 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .240 10 50 .725 OBPS
I think Jason has lost the power, and has lost the bat speed. Sorry, but I do not believe that last year was an anomaly. Josh Bard sure looks good right now. Heck, can we get George Kottaras up this season?

Kevin Youkilis, first base:
PECOTA says: .284 18 78 .830 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .300 20 85 .850 OBPS
Youk kicks it into gear before he moves across the diamond to 3B in 2008.

Dustin Pedroia, second base:
PECOTA says: .294 9 62 .791 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .300 10 60 .800 OBPS
PECOTA loves Pedroia. His VORP (value-over-replacement-player) is third on the team at 22.2, which says as much about how many crappy 2B there are in the majors as much as how good Pedroia could be.

Julio Lugo, shortstop:
PECOTA says: .284 8 53 19 SBs .753 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .300 12 70 35 SBs .800 OBPS
I like Lugo. He can hit, and he will hit. He brings energy, enthusiasm, and range to the infield.

Mike Lowell, third base:
PECOTA says: .273 15 76 .774 OBPS
The big beer gut says: About right.
Lowell is Lowell. There is no mystery surrounding him. He should pick up his 40 doubles and good defense at 3B.
Outfielder:

Manny Ramirez:
PECOTA says: .297 33 107 .967 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .315 40 125 .975 OBPS
Everyday Manny comes closer and closer to being with the Sox until he retires after 2010. He is a hitting machine, and he those two option years look more and more like worth picking up for the front office.

Coco Crisp:
PECOTA says: .310 13 64 21 SBs .813 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .310 15 70 45 SBs .800 OBPS
PECOTA loves Coco and so do I. Coco should run like crazy at the bottom of the order as well. Coco is a very, very good centerfielder and spark plug in the line-up.

J.D. Drew:
PECOTA says: .285 15 63 .868 OBPS
The big beer gut says: .300 25 100 .925 OBPS
I do not know why PECOTA is going low on the power numbers for Drew, but I think this guy is the perfect fit for RF in Boston and in the number 5 spot in the order.

Wily Mo Pena:
PECOTA says: .276 20 68 .840 OBPS
The big beer gut says: dead-on
Wily Mo is the best fourth outfielder in baseball, slightly sliding ahead of Melky Cabrera in the rankings.

I do not care about bench projections. Sorry Mirabelli, Cora, and Hinske.

All-in-all, this team should win 90 to 100 games and go far in the playoffs this season.

* * *

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