It’s time for the last mailbag of the spring, one last chance to answer a few questions before the regular season begins for the Red Sox. When we next reach our hands into the bag, we will have a few games that mean something to analyze, and the nature of the questions will surely change.
For now, we have a nice selection of inquiries to comb through, and here are some of the best. If you don’t see your question here feel free to drop another in the mailbag next week, or drop me a line on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who took part this week.
1. Mr. Lee, I am a big Tim Wakefield fan and I was hoping he would get to 193 wins to break the Red Sox record but I really don’t see a role for him in the rotation, nor the bullpen. Is he on the team because he is respected highly, insurance or is a trade in the works?
— Nick Hamel
It’s safe to say that the first two of your three reasons as to why Wakefield is on the team are correct. He is a respected member of this clubhouse, although that alone will not give anyone a role on a team. The matter of Wakefield offering insurance is much more important to the Red Sox. There are some interesting pieces in Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves, who will be among those providing starting pitching depth, but Wakefield gives the team an immediate option to pick up some starts if it is ever needed. Also, people hear the term “long relief” or “mop-up duty” and figure it means little to the team, but those roles have value, even if it is just to avoid having to use the rest of the bullpen in a blowout. Over the course of a long season, that has merit.
2. Who do you think will be greatly overlooked in this star-filled lineup of ours.
— Jack Webster
There are several fine candidates, but I’m going to go with Marco Scutaro. There are many who wanted to toss Scutaro aside in favor of Jed Lowrie, and while Lowrie swung a nice bat down the stretch in 2010, Scutaro was one of the team’s most consistent performers at the plate, all while battling through constant physical ailments. Remember, when the Red Sox signed Scutaro, just as many people pointed to his outstanding offensive season in Toronto in 2009 (.282, 12 homers, 14 stolen bases, 90 walks, 100 runs) than his solid glove.
Scutaro won’t win any Triple Crowns, but with a return to health he could duplicate those numbers in 2011.
3. I’m completely and totally aware that spring training is just that; however, should Red Sox Nation be concerned by the struggles this spring, especially with our pitching?
If there are any struggles with which to be concerned, it would be with the pitching, but even then it might be a stretch. What could be cause for concern to the “glass half empty” crowd is the fact that the bulk of the rotation had their worst start in their last major tune-up. The trio of John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett combined to give up 18 earned runs on 28 hits in just 15 1/3 innings over their “final” outings (good for a 10.57 ERA). Seven of the hits were home runs. Each will have one more trip to the mound before the regular season, but their pitch count will be cut — the outing will almost serve as a side session.
Jonathan Papelbon had his fair share of struggles this spring but showed some nice bite on some of his off-speed stuff in an appearance on Friday.
The positive is that every one of these guys is healthy. Considering how many pitchers across Major League Baseball could not get through spring training without an injury, that’s something on which the Red Sox can hang their hat.
4. Considering that Adrian Gonzalez will be playing first base for the foreseeable future, have the Red Sox considered moving Lars Anderson to the outfield? If not, is that something you could see them looking at in the future?
Hi Jim. Anderson’s path is essentially blocked by Gonzalez, but he has made himself into a pretty good first baseman in the past year or so. That is his position and it will be going forward. As it is, Boston’s system has as much outfield depth as any in baseball. Even if Anderson had the ability to be a serviceable outfielder, of which we have no indication, there is no room for him.
5. Hey Tony, good to see you working hard during the games. Who do you think has a better season, Josh Beckett or John Lackey?
Thanks. I do what I can, and I credit Diet Coke with an assist. Great question. While it is tough to go against Beckett given some of his accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform, I lean (just slightly) toward Lackey. Much has been made of the improvement Lackey had over the second half of the 2010 season and he has given every reason to suggest he can continue that momentum in his second year with the team.
Lackey entered camp in great shape, has appeared much more comfortable this spring than last and is progressing through the month of March the way he is supposed to for the first time since 2007. In 2008 and 2009, Lackey had physical issues that kept him out of action for the first month-plus of the regular season. Last year, he pitched with those injuries in the back of his head and said it prevented him from building up the requisite arm strength.
Now, the righty is on track to enter April where he needs to be. For what it’s worth, he was 19-9 with an American League-leading 3.01 ERA in 2007.
6. I know that spring training is not supposed to mean anything. I’m not sure that is true, but Beckett has looked real bad. Should we worry?
— Jim Cunningham
It’s clear that pitching is on the minds of many, and we actually left out a few questions that were very similar. I’ll go back to what I said earlier. Beckett is healthy and feeling just fine from a physical standpoint, and that cannot be taken lightly. He had a pretty major bout of the flu last spring and was hindered by back woes the year before. The fact that he is 0-4 with a 6.64 ERA in Grapefruit League play should not worry you guys just yet. If he has that line a month into the year, then you can fret. For now, just be pleased that Beckett is healthy and motivated to bounce back from a dismal 2010.
7. Years ago a hit that dropped between the infielders and outfielders was called a “Texas Leaguer.” When and why was this term dropped from the commentators’ vocabulary?
Well, by the power of the internet I learned that a player named Ollie Pickering was brought up from the Texas League back before the turn of the century (the 20th) and had a bunch of those kinds of hits in a row, thus creating the term. However, we can take that reference to a grain of salt, as well as any others as it appears there are many theories as to its origin.
You still hear the term from time to time, although blooper and flare seem to be more popular. Texas Leaguer just seems to be a bit old-fashioned these days.
8. Why don’t Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford consider executing drag bunts? Mickey Mantle was especially successful with the drag bunt. Perhaps if you get the opportunity you can ask them about this. Thanks so much for all you effort. It’s appreciated.
— Joan T. Dolan
Not a bad idea. I’ll run that by them at some point to see what they say.
As for why they don’t try drag bunts more often, one assumption is that these are two very good hitters with the chance to get two, three or four bags on one swing of the bat. In Mantle’s case, he was such a better athlete than most of the guys throwing to him. Today, so many pitchers are exceptional athletes themselves, which it a bit harder to burn them with something like that. Guys defend around the mound as well as they ever have.
9. I was wondering where you think No. 13, Carl Crawford, is going to bat? Also, who are the favorites to win the last two spots in the bullpen. I think it should be Dennys Reyes and the former Yankee, Aldredo Aceves.
My contention is that Crawford will be just fine batting third. He is not the prototypical No. 3 hitter as he doesn’t have a ton of power, but he did hit 19 home runs last year and while people consider triples as just a speed category, they do plenty to give a boost to the slugging stats. Crawford has led the AL in triples four times.
The only members of the 2010 Red Sox, who ranked second in the majors in slugging percentage, to have more extra-base hits than Crawford’s 62 was Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz.
By now you may have heard that Reyes and Matt Albers won the last two spots in the bullpen. Aceves will serve as a member of the rotation for Triple-A Pawtucket.
10. Darnell McDonald has been very impressive so far with the Red Sox. Why has he had such a struggle being picked up by big league teams for the past 13 years?
Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. McDonald was a first-round pick in 1997 and had some nice seasons as a minor leaguer all those years with several organizations, but he didn’t really get much of a break until last season with the Red Sox, due to their multiple injuries in the outfield.
If you look at McDonald’s minor league statistics, he had very gradual improvement as the years wore on. He wasn’t the can’t-miss prospect he once was, but a very serviceable, hard-working player that drew the attention of the Red Sox front office, which should be given plenty of credit for seeing such quality where others did not.