Something on my mind

Yes, Evan is still away. Yes, I’m still here
A little housekeeping first. In the doubleheader yesterday, Wade Miller pitched well yesterday, Cla Meredith didn’t. For his second straight start Jeremi Gonzalez also pitched well, which gives him temporary rights to the claim of best 8th starter in MLB. Think about that. This, of course, was our rotation to begin the season:
Schilling
Wells
Clement
Wakefield
Arroyo
Well, that was our theoretical rotation, anyway. Curt Schilling started the season on the DL, so we went with a 4-man rotation for a while. But if Schilling had been healthy, is there any doubt that he would have been our #1? So that’s where I’m putting him.
Moving on, these were the SP’s we had in reserve:
Miller
Halama
Gonzalez
And there you have it. Most teams in baseball are hurting for only 5 starters who are league-average or better, and the Red Sox have 8. Once again proving that Theo Epstein is a visionary genius.
But now, onwards to the more serious business. I’ve got a couple of general observations to make about what I saw from Miller & Meredith yesterday, and then I’ve got a (slightly unsettling) point to make about beloved resident goofball slugger Manny Ramirez.
As I’m sure you know by now, Miller looked pretty good, no question about it. Actually, in my opinion, he looked almost too good. He also looked very different from the pitcher I watched in person on Tuesday in Pawtucket. I can’t tell if he looked different to me 1) because he was throwing differently or 2) just because I was seeing him from a different angle, as I was watching the game on TV. I’m thinkin’ it’s a bit of both.
Every pitching coach I’ve ever heard has said to step towards your target when you throw. I’m a right-hander, so for me that instruction means to point the toe of my left shoe towards my intended target. Now, when Miller pitched on Tuesday, it didn’t look like he was doing this. It looked rather like he was stepping towards the on-deck-circle, as I said in my last post. This seemingly awkward throwing motion left him throwing across his body. But when Miller pitched yesterday, he looked perfectly normal as I watched on TV. However, I also I noticed yesterday that Miller was working off the end of the rubber, rather than the middle. I didn’t notice that he did this in Pawtucket, but he probably did. That might partially explain the difference in his delivery.
That wasn’t all, though. There was also the difference in velocity. In the AAA start Miller was throwing consistently about 87 mph and topping out at 91. Yesterday he was throwing consistently about 91 mph. What do you make of that? Well, yesterday Miller also looked (in my humblest opinion) like he was flying open. His delivery in Pawtucket was very compact & controlled & tight, as if Miller were deliberately holding back. Maybe he was. But seeing him fly open like that yesterday, I hafta admit, I shuddered, thinking about all the extra strain he was putting on that rotator cuff.
Look, I know that the Sox know what they’re doing. Theo & Co. — and especially trainer Chris Correnti — have been through this before with Pedro Martinez (and I think Pedro deserves a little thanks for this, too). I know that Wade Miller has probably been very well coached by his doctors & trainers. I know that an athlete knows his own body best. Maybe Miller was purposefully holding back during his rehab starts, and maybe he really is ready to be throwing like this now. But I’ve got this terrible feeling that his adrenaline & competitive instincts could lead him to attempt things that he shouldn’t be doing.
And let’s face it, that would be a shame. The guy is relatively young & has a wonderful arm. Hey, if you had told me a year ago that Wade Miller would be pitching in the Red Sox rotation at this point next year, I would’ve been thrilled. Ecstatic. Truly excited. Good young pitching isn’t becoming any easier to come by, people. You’re not going to get a Santana, Sabathia, or Sheets on the free agent market: thanks to revenue sharing, teams are locking these guys up as fast as they can. That’s not a bad thing, either, but it does mean that, in turn, FA pitchers who are both good & young are going to become even more expensive in the very near future. Or in other words, the only truly feasible way to acquire good, young pitching will be to grow it yourself.
One day the Red Sox might be able to furnish themselves with a full rotation of their own homegrown talent. That day, unfortunately, ain’t today.
So imagine my delight when Miller fell into our lap. Good & young. Young & good. Big righty power pitcher with a good build and (more importantly) a nasty breaking ball.
I’m just worried, that’s all. Understandably so, I should think. Stay within yourself, Wade. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to do everything all at once.
And speaking of good young arms, Cla Meredith looked very interesting to me. Evan was right: the kid has kind of a slingshot delivery. Weird. But I liked what I saw.
Yeah, I know we lost and all that. Yeah yeah, I know the kid blew it. But what the heck, c’mon, lighten up a little. It’s just one game. It was Cla’s MLB debut, and I can guarantee you that the kid was nervous, which couldn’t have helped his command. Making matters worse, Terry Francona threw Meredith right into the fire by bringing him into a game-deciding situation. I don’t blame Francona: might as well see what Theo’s giving you, right? Let’s see what the kid’s got, why not? But all the same, Cla must’ve been nervous. And that Sexson “grand” slam? There was nothing grand about it. He looked bad on the swing, and the homerun was as cheap as they come. ‘Nuf said.
Meanwhile, Meredith throws with good velocity from a funky angle and has great movement on his pitches. I like it. I really like it. I hope Francona sends him back out there today.
Lastly, I want to make a sobering observation about everybody’s favorite fun-loving leftfielder. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. Manny’s last couple of seasons, with splits given for pre- and post-All-Star Break (with our thanks to ESPN for the splits):
Manny 2003:
Pre-ASB: 345 AB’s, .319 AVG, .413 OBP, .571 SLG
Post-ASB: 224 AB’s, .335 AVG, .448 OBP, .612 SLG
Manny 2004:
Pre-ASB: 314 AB’s, .344 AVG, .437 OBP, .682 SLG
Post-ASB: 254 AB’s, .264 AVG, .345 OBP, .528 SLG
Maybe a fluke, maybe not, but did you notice how Manny tailed off in the second half last season? I did. I mean, at one point Manny looked like he was having a possible Triple Crown season. And then he cooled off a bit, and then time passed, and … yeah. He was good again in the playoffs. No worries, right?
Not so fast.
Manny 2005:
Pre-ASB: 104 AB’s, .250 AVG, .380 OBP, .529 SLG
Which is strikingly similar to Manny’s performance after the ASB last year. Now, I don’t want to cry wolf, but this is when I start to worry. Once is fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.
If these numbers mean anything, we’ve got ourselves a player who will be 33 years old at the end of this month, and to whom we are committed (at the low, low cost of $20m a year) until at least 2008. He’s just hitting his natural decline phase — and we’re just screwed!!!!
Actually, no. It could be worse.
It’s not good, but it could be worse. Manny still has his excellent batting eye working for him (and by extension, us). He’s still an immensely powerful hitter, as evidenced not only by his SLG% but also by the homerun he drilled onto the Mass Pike earlier this season. He’s a guy who should continue to post a .900 OPS for the next couple of seasons. But the AVG will never again be the thing of beauty it once was.
That still leaves us with a pretty durned good hitter. Most teams would be happy to have a guy like that batting 3rd. But the problems here are obvious.
For one thing, Manny was never worth $20m a year, and the disparity between his cost & his production will only continue to greaten over time. He’s almost untradeable now: if these numbers are for real, he’ll be completely untradeable very soon — as soon as the rest of the league catches on.
For another thing, Manny is (and always will be) a terrible fielder. It’s one thing when a guy is posting a 1.000+ OPS every year but he’s a lousy fielder. You can live with that, especially when this guy only has to patrol LF in Fenway. But when a guy can’t field and is only posting a .900 OPS? Well, that’s usually when you start thinking about DH’ing the guy. Only trouble is, our DH spot is quite, quite filled at the moment. And if Manny continues to decline below the .900 OPS level? What then?
I don’t want to think about it. You probably don’t either. OK, then forget I ever said anything. And hey, I could be dead wrong, too. Maybe Manny is just starting the year slow. Maybe it was just a funk last year. Maybe it’s not all as bad as it looks.
I’d love to believe that.