No Power, No Problem as Red Sox Opt for Pitching, Defense


January 18, 2010

No Power, No Problem as Red Sox Opt for Pitching, Defense It's an ironic look at how the game has changed in the last 10-plus years. The ad starts with Mark McGwire smacking batting-practice homers as fans smile and cheer. It cuts to then-Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux wishing they got some attention from the adoring power groupies, led by the ageless Heather Locklear. As the old commercial suggests, "Chicks dig the long ball."

Clearly the Red Sox don't care about adhering to this old adage. No, they're going the pitching and defense route.

Though the Boston brass made a serious run at bringing back Jason Bay and seemingly made a cursory attempt at signing Matt Holliday, the Red Sox were unable to land either of baseball's free-agent sluggers this offseason. Instead, they eschewed the power game and went the route of pitching and defense, focusing on what they're referring to as "run prevention."

It's a perfectly legitimate plan. Adding John Lackey to an already stellar rotation should only help matters. Bringing in veterans like Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron should upgrade an already good set of gloves.

"The game plan is simple," The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote Sunday. "The Sox are trying to get better at run prevention through defense and pitching. If that is accomplished, the offense doesn't have to be the greatest in baseball."

Fair enough. But with the loss of Bay and his 36 home runs and 119 RBIs in 2009, will a lack of power be a problem for the Red Sox in 2010?

Are home runs simply a cosmetic value? Something to excite the fans and impress the "chicks?" Certainly not. But is there any correlation between hitting the long ball and winning titles?

Well, I checked. Each of the last two World Series champions, the Yankees in 2009 and the Phillies in '08, led their leagues in home runs with 244 and 214, respectively.

But check this out: The 2007 champs, your Boston Red Sox, hit just 166 to finish eighth in the AL. So the Red Sox have a precedent for winning despite mediocre power numbers.

So you can't blame them for sacrificing Bay's bashing to improve both on the mound and in the field. Cameron won't be expected to match or improve on Bay's stats. His 24 homers and 70 RBIs in 2009 — even combined with the eight dingers and 44 RBIs of Beltre — don't match Bay's output. And that's … OK.
"Pitching and defense show up every night," Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan told the Globe. "The question is how much we'll hit, but we're going to do our best. I think some people believe our offense won't be as good, but we feel we're going to have a very good hitting team."

For starters, Magadan believes that having Victor Martinez penciled into the lineup for a full season will help the team's power numbers. It's only fair to hope that David Ortiz, too, keeps up his torrid late-season pace. And it's not like Cameron and Beltre are complete slouches at the plate: They do have 515 combined lifetime home runs.

Who knows? Maybe Boston could go after one of the remaining free-agent sluggers, like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye or Jim Thome.

Maybe. But power doesn't seem to be the Red Sox' focus anymore.

They see themselves turning into a "Baltimore Orioles circa 1969-71" sort of team, as Cafardo says:

"In those old Baltimore days, you couldn't get a ball by Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger on the left side, and Davey Johnson and Boog Powell on the right side weren't bad, either. Paul Blair tracked everything down in center. And when Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Pat Dobson were on their game, a three-run homer was all you needed."

With perennial Gold Glove candidates Beltre and Scutaro manning the left side of the infield and the equally proficient Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis on the right, the Red Sox should have one of the top defensive infields in the game. And with the smooth Jacoby Ellsbury in left, the still nimble 37-year-old Cameron in center and the sneaky-quick J.D. Drew in right, there really isn't a hole to speak of.

Similarly, with starters like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield all in the rotation mix, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox regularly giving up a ton of runs.

Chicks may dig the long ball. But you know what they dig even more? World Series titles.

And the Red Sox are doing their best — in their own, somewhat nontraditional way — to make them happy.

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