March 11, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Are Sox spinning on the new move to defense?
by Dave Long

Spring training is off and running for the Red Sox without much fanfare to speak of. No panic now or in the lead-up to it as there was last year when the history-challenged were hysterical over the fact that, thanks to a contract impasse, the Sox might not have (pause for a gasp…) Jason Varitek calling pitches behind the plate.

That was treated by the reactionaries as a calamity somewhere between the free agent walk of prime-of-life Carlton Fisk to the White Sox after the 1980 season and the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. Of course by July those same folks were calling for the captain’s head because he couldn’t throw anyone out stealing and was hitting the way the historical record of all but two catchers (Fisk and Mike Piazza) said he would at 37.

But this year, not much. There’s the mild controversy over who is the fifth starter, Clay Buchholz or Tim Wakefield. But the Bronson Arroyo-for-Wily Mo Pena flap of a few years back has calmed the nerves on that one after Theo and the Nation learned the lesson that sooner or later the old adage usually comes true — you can never have enough starting pitching. And then there is the issue over whether the lack of a 30-homer guy or two can be mitigated by a shift in emphasis to “run prevention.” Most seem to be buying that, or taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Theo’s position.

To me it sounds like at least partial spin since they had to say something after Jason Bay wouldn’t bite on the medical language Theo and company wanted inserted in his new deal. Since the brass has historically spent when necessary I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, while spending is good, spending wisely is better, which they haven’t always done. And after getting just one good one in the four-year deal they gave Keith Foulke,  none from Julio Lugo’s four-year deal and zero from Curt Schilling’s last deal, I’ve got no issue with looking for protection with what they think is a potentially long-term knee issue with Bay. And if you say that didn’t bother the Mets, remember Theo passed on Pedro for fragility issues and they didn’t and wound up getting a year and a half of production on that four-year deal. So I’ve got Theo’s back on this one.

It sounds like spin because it flies in the face of what he did after 2006 when they committed a team record low 66 errors. After that, Mark Loretta and Alex Gonzalez were out to pave the way for Dustin Pedroia and because the ladder was below the acceptable of level of Theo’s beloved OBP number despite being spectacular defensively at short. So in came Julio Lugo. How’d that work out? So are we now to think he’s made a complete conversion? Or was it they couldn’t get the hitter they wanted to fill the five hole for cost or injury protection issues? I think it’s the latter and the way to assuage the masses is to talk about improved fielding — which brings me to the point of this diatribe.

Few if any seem to think this is much of an issue, but I do. It’s putting Mike Cameron in center and moving Jacoby Ellsbury to left to preserve the legs of baseball’s best base stealer. The Sox have two points on their side. The first is that Cameron has been a very good center fielder for a very long time during which he’s won three gold gloves. Though I’d hasten to say the operative word here is “very.” And then there is the fact that of the top five base stealers of the last 40 years, all but Joe Morgan were left fielders. That list includes Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman.

But of the next six only Willie Wilson spent anytime in left and that was only because Amos Otis was already there when he arrived in Kansas City. But after his decline at 35, Wilson moved to center for the next 10 years and still averaged 50+ steals. Also in the next six are center fielders Otis (my man) Nixon and Kenny Lofton as well as shortstops Ozzie Smith, Bert Campanaris and Maury Wills — which besides catcher is the most demanding position.

There’s also the side that says he’s never played left before and Ellsbury has. True, but Manny was in left for 7½ years and Cameron can do it better than him blindfolded. Plus, since this is supposed to be a platoon situation with Jeremy Hermida, that means Ellsbury will be going back and forth all year. And while he’s done it before, doesn’t it make more sense to put him and Cameron in a regular spot if possible?  Plus prevailing wisdom says the legs a manager should preserve are the 37-year-old ones and not the 26-year-old. History says those are the ones that get tired first. And going back to the missing 30-homer guy: they’re going to need Cameron to hit the 25 and 24 he’s hit the last two years in Milwaukee — though I should point out it took him 29 games more to hit one fewer last year at 36.

Given that evidence, this seems to be another case of Mother Francona’s zeal to baby players, as well the stat geeks’ outsmarting themselves again. Much like when Ellsbury was kicked out of the lead-off spot on May 31 last year while hitting .299, because his OBP was only .346. When he returned there on July 20 his average was .294 and OBP .342. So why did they send him back? Because the day his speed left the lead-off spot and Dustin Pedroia took over, Pedroia was hitting .328 and Kevin Youkilis a robust .366. When they went back to him in desperation Youk was at .304 and Pedroia .302 — though after dropping to .285 he was moved back to the two hole and JD Drew led off for three weeks.  

That’s as good an example of outsmarting yourself by what the numbers say rather than what you’re seeing with your eyes as I can think of. His speed makes a difference up there last year regardless of those numbers and does in the field as well. And while they may have learned their lesson, and this move is being made as a concession to his importance to the offense, it still looks to me like a case of someone fixing something that ain’t broken.

Because if Cameron doesn’t his those home run numbers because his 37-year-old legs tired in August/September, as Ellsbury’s have not in any of his three years in the majors, while David Ortiz is the 25-85 I suspect he’ll be, all the spin in the word isn’t going to stop the clamoring for the bopper they missed out on this winter.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


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12/10/2009 The mailbag beckons in a busy week
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11/26/2009 Thanks and turkeys are the usual holiday fare this time of year
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11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
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10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
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10/8/2009 Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
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9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
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8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
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7/2/2009 Declaring independence of how others play the game
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6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
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5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
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4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
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4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
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2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
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1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
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1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
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10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
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10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
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9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
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3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
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2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
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1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
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11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
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11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
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9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
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7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
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11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
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10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
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08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
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07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
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06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
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06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
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01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat