I wrote this for Over the Monster. Basically… what I said in the headline.
Clay Buchholz’ nightmare goes something like this: There’s a man on first base. After four pickoff throws, Clay finally nails him, and there’s a small celebration, and he looks back over, and the runner’s still there. For all the talk about Clay’s shortened time between pitches this offseason, he’s still crazed by runners at the cold corner. That’s fine, if he can repeat what he did last night — 7 innings, 1 run — for the season. Just don’t tell me it’s a new guy. We’ve seen this show before, and it’s a good show.
The Yankees lost the game when Hiroki Kuroda took a liner off the fingertip, and crawled back into it in the eighth inning when they cut a six-run deficit in half, thanks to Vernon Wells’ three-run homer off Alfredo Aceves, a guy who probably thought Heath Ledger’s Joker was too predictable. The Ace of Chaos’ mess was nothing Joel Hanrahan couldn’t nicely clean up, and the game that will forever be known for the first of Jackie Bradley’s 5,000 hits ended like you finish an ice cream sundae, having saved the cherry for the end. The Sox still haven’t hit a home run this season, but it doesn’t matter when nearly everyone comes to mash. It helps when you’re playing the Yankees’ MASH unit, but a win’s a win, and if the Yanks are going to let Jose “American League for Rey Ordonez” Iglesias hit .600 in the Bronx, that’s not a good sign. Iglesias doesn’t like the cold, by the way, and looked like a human peapod out there, albeit one with the range of Daniel Day-Lewis, or a soprano, or whatever metaphor you want to use. Dude gets to balls, as does Bradley, whose defense Baseball Prospectus nailed:
He doesn’t possess otherworldly speed, but his instincts are so good that the end-product would be above-average in the majors right now.
For the second game in a row, he tracked down what looked like a potential warm-air homer without huffing and puffing his way there; he just sort of materialized under the ball before bringing down as gingerly as catching an egg. Honeymoon periods always end, but they sure are fun while they last.
Fearless prediction for tonight’s game: Jonny Gomes blasts the first homer of the season, and I win my poker game.
Well that was worth waiting for, huh? I have to admit I didn’t see any of it until just now. I went to Mets Opening Day, mistakenly thinking that the Sox and Yankees were playing Monday night instead of at the exact same time. But man oh man, was it fun watching those numbers on the Citifield scoreboard. 2-0. 5-2. 8-2. It was like watching a bear market spring to life. It was tomorrow, and, like Annie promised, the sun had finally come out.
Since this is a Jackie Bradley, Jr. blog, let’s focus on dude’s three walks and ridiculous catch in left. Walking in your first at-bat against CC Sabathia, as a lefty no less, is a good sign. Maybe the service time discussion is moot — why would the Red Sox send him down to Triple-A when they’re on pace to finish 162-0? — but it’s likely still a major issue, now that Bradley’s got to be sent to the minors for 20 days in order to delay his free agency until 2020. There seems little question that Bradley gives the Sox the best lineup they could have right now, and Ben Cherington is determined the figure out the rest later. Everything broke right for the Sox in this game, and that won’t happen every day, but it’s pretty great when it seems like ages since anything went right. The Sox are off today, then back at it tomorrow night in the Bronx. I might be there, but the Mets emptied my pocketbook to the tune of $115 per ticket for the opener. Those Mets fans love their Opening Days.
Anyhow, it was the Sox’s day. Take it away, Rodney:
Marc Normandin made a convincing case on the Over the Monster podcast today that putting Jackie Bradley Jr. on the Opening Day roster would not cause the seas neither to go dry nor boil, despite the hang-wringing of those including yours truly. I urge you to listen. The crux of the argument is that Bradley can always do an end run around his service time requirement, and there have been cases as recently as last year, with Mike Trout, where keeping a player in the minors for service time reasons may have cost a team a playoff berth — that is, when David Ortiz comes back (Ortiz’ absence having indirectly created the space for Bradley in the first place), if Bradley is good enough to keep in the majors even then, well, then, let the guy play. There was some joking about Bradley signing an “Evan Longoria contract” within a couple weeks of being called up, which I’d love, but they Bradley is a Scott Boras client, and Boras’s clients don’t often sign those. Still, dare to dream, you know?
The other factor is defense, which — let’s be serious — wouldn’t be a big deal to bite the bullet on for nine games, but Bradley’s is apparently outstanding, and would be an upgrade from anyone they could dredge up. None of this made any sense to Matt Kory, who was shocked to the core that this is a serious possibility. At this point with this Red Sox team, this is such a good problem to have that I can’t get too worked up about it anymore. I’m with Normandin, If he plays, he plays. The team plays most of the first month at home, and it would be easy to sneak him back down to AAA to get his time once they hit the road. And if he’s just *that* good, Jeremy Lin-style? You don’t keep that lightning in a bottle. The real math is: 9 games now or 20 days later, and the value over replacement production Bradley provides in 9 games now versus however many later. This is probably close, and in favor of starting him later even given the rash of injuries now, but the Sox have a problem now to which he’s the solution: The question that’s unknowable is whether or not they ultimately care about the service time. Kory’s frustration presupposes that they don’t. I have no idea of knowing whether they do or not. If Bradley starts on Monday the Sox aren’t fucked. They’re fine.
And if that didn’t convince you, well, check this out, from Buster Olney via OTM again:
Player carries the ‘it’ factor. Presidential presence to game. Regal. However, the player has been the most popular man in Columbia, S.C. from the 1st day he walked on campus and he had me glued to the TV last year watching the College World Series. Mesmerizing defender. Jaw-dropping defensive skills. Patrols CF with a determined grace, with flare. Would have happily paid good money just to watch his pregame batting practice and infield. Acrobatic and skilled. Catches every ball with flare. Covers ground like a gladiator. Plus handles the glove in CF like Omar Vizquelwould in the infield. Amazing defensive skills. Innate ability to hawk the diamond. Better defender in center field than majority of major leaguers right now& [You] can’t teach the things this kid can do defensively. Made the parallel play coming directly in on a ball ala 1998 Andruw Jones. Sick defender.
The dude was glued to a television. That’s a lot of fumes. They worked.
This is all in addition to what’s here. The point is: It is a money-losing proposition to start the season with Jackie Bradley Jr. on the Red Sox roster. As WEEI’s Kirk Minihane writes:
Are you willing to give up a full season in 2019 for nine games in 2013?
That’s it, nothing more and nothing less. The idea that the Boston Red Sox should punt a full year of club control over what sure looks to be a potential star in what will be the absolute prime of his career in exchange for nine games is, of course, as foolish and short-sighted as it sounds.
Bradley Opening Day cheerleading, like this from the Boston Herald, is crazy. Starting him on Opening Day isn’t throwing caution to the wind; it’s throwing cash to the wind. The Red Sox have injury problems. They don’t have contract problems. Jackie Bradley will be much better in six years than he will be in April. Using him to solve an injury problem now will just create a contract problem later. It’s been more than a year since a game that matters, so it’s unsurprising that Sox fans would be clamoring for a spicy new name. Let it simmer, boys and girls, just a little bit longer, and you can eat like kings for years.
I play in a keeper fantasy baseball league that uses an auction system, and is a points system based on linear weights, so your runs and RBI can suck it. This morning, I made the decision to bring B.J. Upton back for one year at $10. Upton represents everything that this league doesn’t reward — fielding, speed, raw home run numbers — so I have spent the last three hours trying to talk myself into this being a bad idea, but I think it’s actually a good one. The statistics are one thing, and they are the main thing; they predict a year much like his last three, which would make him slightly less valuable than $10, in our system. My pause is this: Every anecdotal factor — every single one — is in his favor, as far as I see it. It’s a predictor’s no man’s land. It’s the rare time that the sides are equally weighted, as far as I can see.
Upton was once the top prospect in the game, and he has turned in a slightly above-average career through six full seasons and two partial ones. He had one great year, in 2007, at the age of 22. Since then, he has consistently hit around .270/.320/.430, albeit with a heap of plate appearances. He’s been success as a quantity, though not necessarily at the quality the Rays expected. The Braves signed him for 5 years, $75 million a deal that reflects his durability and the twinkle in the eye most free agents are for most teams. They see good things, and a lot of them. They see a very good baseball player, and teams need very good baseball players.
So why pull this for a guy who’s been good-at-best in the aggregate for the last six seasons? I think it works because Upton is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Braves. As a fantasy owner, he’s somewhat riskier, because I’m betting he’ll be good this year, instead of at some point in the next three years. But I think if he’s ever going to put it together beyond the perfectly respectable level he’s achieved, it would happen now, for several reasons.
The first reason he might be better this season is the new contract, which pays him almost twice annually the $7 million he earned last season in Tampa, itself almost twice as much as his previous high of $4.8+ million. Like the Patriots, the Rays are always playing the angles, locking up talent below market rates. Like the Patriots, I can’t expect this to endear itself to players in the long run. I think that a large contract has as much potential to calm an athlete as it does to throw him into complacency, a trope that rarely plays itself out — players who don’t fulfill the terms of huge contracts, like modern-day Alex Rodriguez — shouldn’t have been offered the contracts in the first place. For a player of Upton’s self-assuredness, I’m guessing that he’s more likely to fold comfortably into self-assurance, instead of being the player who “vexed his adherents, because he’s clearly a gifted five-tool player who can carry a team when it matters.” Unrelated to the contract, I think Alex Gordon is a good precedent for Upton’s career arc, albeit one without the wonderful age-22 season. Scouts can be right or wrong, but in the aggregate, they are quite good at identifying baseball talent, and Gordon was every bit the prospect as Upton, though more or less a complete disaster until two seasons ago. Upton’s talent has never been an issue, nor was Gordon’s aptitude for the game, but both have had trouble harnessing it. Gordon has become an above-average player, quite possibly a good one. It took him five years, and he broke out at age 27. Upton is 27 right now, and will be until August. If the dam is going to break, this would be a natural time for it to happen. To be clear, I’m not talking about a Jacoby Ellsbury-like breakout, but one like Adam Jones’s last season, which, at .287/.334/.505 would be a great landing spot for Upton.
The second reason I think it could happen is that he’s playing with his brother. Jeff Sullivan crunched the numbers at FanGraphs to see if siblings improved if they were on the same team, and the answer was: Not really! “It turns out baseball is a complicated game the outcomes of which can’t be determined by one’s emotional state,” he writes. “Play with a brother in April and, chances are, come July or August, it just feels like regular baseball.” Being wicked smaht, however, he throws in this caveat:
Of course, what applies generally doesn’t have to apply specifically, and the Upton brothers are unique, like all sets of brothers. Both are known for their incredible raw skillsets, and both are known for not consistently reaching their ceilings. Maybe each will be motivated in Atlanta by the presence of the other. Or maybe B.J. will just be happy to be away from Tampa, and Justin will just be happy to be away from Arizona. Maybe they don’t improve. Maybe they stay the same, or even get worse. At the end of the day, they’re just two teammates in major-league baseball who know each other pretty well.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, I think the combination of B.J. being away from Tampa, and taking on an elder-ish statesman role on a high profile team alongside his struggling younger brother, will be good for him. I’m not sure this works out for Justin, anecdotally, but he’s already owned for $31. Obviously, BJ at $10 is a better bet than Justin, but the question is whether it’s a good one. I think BJ is good for Justin. It’s possible that being an oldest brother with the initials “B.J.” is clouding my judgment. It’s likely, even, but it doesn’t make me wrong. At the very least, I don’t see how it would hurt B.J. This is obviously a major judgment call, but it’s on these margins that desktop scouting happens. There’s an argument that it’s a hobby from which to stay away, like picking stocks unless you’re really good at it, but forget it, Marge: It’s fantasy baseball.
Finally, I think the Braves provide a better environment for Upton than Tampa’s wonderful free-for-all. Part of growing is accepting that you need to change, and if Atlanta’s slightly more strict ways can have a positive effect on Upton, and get him to wait on juuuuust a few more pitches, the benefits will expand disproportionately to the costs of instilling them. This is always true, but this is why change can be important — even if Upton is nothing I say he might be, and does in fact use his contract as an excuse to dog it, the barriers to getting messages across in a new environment are necessarily easier to cross than they are in a static situation. If the Braves can get him to stop swinging even a little bit, they’ll make out well. I think they’ll do it, and I’m betting my fake money that it’ll be this year. I feel just good enough about it, but these are the margins at which I have to work.
They were writing about performance enhancing drugs 50 years ago. They’re writing about them more, now, because they believe that for sports to survive, there must by a mystery. For almost all members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, there’s simply not that much to do any more. The numbers have closed around them. More people can better evaluate players than ever before. The game of hero-making for a living is transparent; Jon Heyman doesn’t even bother hiding the game anymore, like playing the cup-and-ball version of three-card monte with an invisible glass, where you can see the ball go down his sleeve just before he looks you dead in the eye and tell you that were wrong, wrong, wrong.
If we needed sportswriters at any point, we certainly need them a lot less now. Games are covered from every angle, as they happen, on Twitter. The sportswriter must figure out how to make lemonade out of a fully squeezed husk; the difference between the sportswriter and the journalist is that the journalist does not pee in a pitcher and tell you his lemonade is the absolute best, because it has real lemon husks floating inside. The press box is a coddling mechanism, an incubator to keep the writers happy with the team’s CEO. In the specific case of the Hall of Fame dialogue, punishing the players for alleged PED use exonerates the owners. The “Hall of Fame” is a misnomer as it is; it’s one room at an otherwise amazing museum of baseball. Clear out the plaques, and you could put some cubicles in there, make some cold calls. It’s the least special part of a very special place. It’s the coat room at the Chartres Cathedral.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are arguably the two best baseball players ever. They do not seem to be nice people. They did really well at the end of their careers. They are famous beyond belief. They don’t need the Hall of Fame. Frankly, the Hall of Fame doesn’t need the Hall of Fame. It’s stupid and demeaning and insulting to the intelligence of anyone who bothers to pay attention. The “character clause” is institutionalized bigotry, not necessarily along racial lines, but along the lines of us vs. them. Ken Rosenthal compared attack-dog statheads to Tea Party activists, but he’s got it backward. His vote is his weapon, and he uses it irresponsibly simply because he can, for now, even as he feels he’s being marginalized to a zero point. It’s insanity, and the angry voices in the computer likely have nothing on those in his own head, telling him that what he’s doing is right. Barry Bonds played. Roger Clemens played. Baseball happened, and it’s properly represented everywhere on Earth except the one room built to do so.