Baseball

Rick Hahn made it a point to call out Right Field as at or near the top of his shopping list for the 2019 off-season. It was well chronicled how historically awful the White Sox were in 2019 at the position, but if you’re unaware they were on pace for a worst-in-history 54 wRC+ before a couple big games in September saved them from immortality. So what was the solution as the team looks to turn the page on the down years of the rebuild and march toward the post-season? A post-hype, RHP mashing/LHP flailing Nomar Mazara. Hahn is eager to prove his club can unlock the untapped potential of the former mega-hype prospect from Texas…

2019 Stats

.268/.318/.469

6.0 BB% 23.0 K%

19 HR 66 RBI 69 R

.327 wOBA 94 wRC+ 0.5 WAR

-4 DRS

LAST WEEK ON NITRO: Mazara turned in his fourth MLB season in much the same fashion as the three that preceded it – by underwhelming. Nothing if not consistent, Mazara posted another season of mediocre production while crushing RHP to the tune of 13 HR/110 wRC+ in 302 ABs and bowing to the whims of LHP with just 6 HR/55 wRC+ in 127 ABs. Mazara seemingly is what he is at the plate at this point, with 64 of 79 career HR coming off RHP and a career 53 wRC+ against LHP that screams for a platoon. Mazara actually went backward in some ways in 2019 as he turned in the worst K/BB ratio of his career with a career high 23% K rate and 6% BB rate.

Mazara is also mediocre (at best) in the field, turning in a -4 DRS and keeping with a theme of being somewhere between -3 and -6 DRS for his career in RF. Nomar was slowed a bit by left oblique strain that kept him to only 116 games played, the lowest of his four full seasons in the bigs. No real speed to his game, Mazara appears to be a curious choice to end the RF woes all on his own.

TOO SWEET! TOO SWEET! (WHOOP WHOOP): Mazara, still just 25 as of late April, finally taps into the unrealized potential that scouts and industry prospect hounds drooled over as he assaulted the minors en route to Texas in 2016. The former top-25 prospect finally figures out how to crush all pitchers the way he’s been able to against RHP (for sizable stretches), allowing him to set a career high in games played and homers as he goes over 150 and 30 for the first time.

“So, sometimes, you need to lean a little more heavily on your scouts, sometimes need a little more heavily on the analytic side. And there’s some projection, especially with younger players involved.” Hahn is rewarded for acquiring such a young player that just never could seem to put it all together and helping him to realize all that potential. Mazara even turns in a passable RF defensively, aided by Luis Robert covering a nice big chunk of Right Center on a regular basis.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Mazara is, in fact, a bit worse than what he appears to be. Every once and a while he drives a mistake deep into the Chicago Summer night, but all too often it is he that is the mistake. LHP remains the bane of his existence, exploiting the holes in his swing so harshly that Mazara finds himself in a platoon with Leury Garcia (or Nicky Delmonico??) by June. The K/BB ratio gets even worse as he devolves to a 25%+ K rate and becomes an expensive LH power pinch hitting option off the bench in August and September as the Sox find more a defensively capable replacement at the trade deadline in their quest to reach the first post-season berth in over a decade.

Mazara is then non-tendered in the Winter and drifts through the majors on short term deals with whichever team’s GM convinces himself that his staff can solve this human puzzle. After ‘flirting’ with the top of the market in Mookie Betts and George Springer, Hahn inks Marcell Ozuna to a four-year, $65M deal a year after he probably could’ve had him for 5/70 instead of spending prospect capital on the allure of what Mazara could’ve been.

BAH GAWD, THAT’S MAZARA’S MUSIC!: I tend to think Nomar Mazara is what he is after over 2,000 Major League at bats and he’ll become Hahn’s most regrettable move of the 2019 Winter. Regrettable might not be the right choice of word, considering the cost of Steele Walker(Texas Ranger) probably has a ceiling for essentially what Mazara is right now. This just feels too much like the type of move you make when you’re a year or so out from contention, trying to catch lightening in a bottle and get a few years of cheap-ish quality labor out of a corner OF spot. The problem is that while the Sox may be a year out from REALLY contending, they went ahead and filled basically every other hole they needed to with what amounts to major upgrades, leaving a little more to be desired from the absolute pit that has been Right Field.

This is not Mazara’s fault, and maybe he does have something left to show us. I think it’s foolish to think he’ll give anything more than a .260/.315/.450 line and a wRC+ around 90 overall, and it’d have been a good idea to have a platoon to hit LHP and realize his best usage. Maybe that’s the real plan, that this is the way Garcia gets at bats after he’s moved off 2B for Madrigal in May or so. Garcia did turn in a 110 wRC+ in 183 ABs against LHP in 2019…so a combined 110 wRC+ between the two would be nearly 40 points higher than 2019 amalgamation of shit that was White Sox Right Fielders.

We’d all happily take that, especially if it’s part of a playoff formula.

 

 

Baseball

Someone always says it better than you. So let me allow The Ringer’s Michael Baumann do it for me…

This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and for the league. I don’t understand why the owner of such a prestigious ball club—a de facto public institution—would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation player when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.

It’s been 100 seasons since the Red Sox sold their best player in such a transparent cash grab. If there’s any justice, they’ll have another 86 years to regret it.

You can copy and paste this when and if Tom Ricketts gets his way on Kris Bryant. Although with the Dodgers out of the market on Bryant now (you’d hope but the fact that they probably still have the pieces to do that if they wanted is frightening and depressing), the Braves really are the only team with the juice to even contemplate it and they don’t even need to. You can fuck right off with the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. Ain’t gonna happen. Also seeing what the return for Betts was–one of the few players clearly better than Bryant–should show everyone just how stupid the idea of trading Bryant is.

Anyway, Baumann is right. The Red Sox have the most expensive ticket in baseball. Which they sell every single one of. Unlike the Cubs, they have a functional network of their own and have for years, with none of the silliness in distribution that the Dodgers have gone through. They are an institution not just in a city, but an entire region of the country. They practically own everything from central Connecticut north. Oh, and FSG just happen to own one of the richest soccer clubs in the world.

(Full disclosure, I profit personally, emotionally, if FSG is indeed sacrificing their baseball success for soccer success, and also when my Red Sox fans friends finally suffer for once. Now that’s out of the way…)

They do not suffer for cash. This is not a “can’t afford” Mookie Betts. This is a “won’t afford.”

Most of the offseason, you’ve seen me rant and rave here about the behavior of the Cubs and the Red Sox. Make no mistake, trading Mookie Betts is a baseball crime, especially when all you get back are a moody and possibly tool-ish young outfielder, and someone who probably projects as a Josh Hader-type reliever at best, and of course FINANCIAL FLEXIBILITY, which is going  on every jersey of every child from Quincy to Maine I’m sure (along with the #69, because that’s the sense of humor in New England).

Betts is just about the only player on the planet who can claim to inhabit the same atmosphere as Mike Trout. Mookie-types come around once a generation. You don’t peddle them simply because you can’t be bothered to pay their expense. You should dream of having the opportunity to pay that expense.

You’ve heard all this before. The system is clearly broken…though….everywhere?

It’s easy to point to Boston or the Cubs as proof that something is off when the richest teams are like, “Nah, I’m good.” And something is wrong when teams like Pittsburgh or Colorado or Florida or one or two others aren’t even trying, given what the industry’s profits are.

But would fans in Cincinnati think the system is broken right now? Or Philly (even though they’re going to win 82 games again because it’s law)? The Mets are just incompetent, not so much evil. Well, evil too but you get my meaning. Anaheim? The Rangers were after everyone too. Maybe those in Milwaukee would? On the Southside?

Certainly no one in LA would, but we’re years from their due date. The reason you hire a GM out of Tampa like Andrew Friedman or Chaim Bloom is not only are they exquisitely talented at spotting and producing talent, but they do it for cheap. They had to, and now the Dodgers and Red Sox are hoping they can do it with bigger budgets but without using all of the bigger budgets. Do we know what the Dodgers will do when the bills come due? Cory Seager is two years from free agency, and that’s what Gavin Lux is for. Mookie might walk, but who else do they have to pay? Bellinger is still four years from free agency. Buehler isn’t even into arbitation yet. Muncy is three years from free agency. And in the meantime, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen come off the books to the tune of over $40M. The Dodgers may never have to spend serious money on payroll.

The problem, obviously, is that MLB has a luxury tax but no luxury floor. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, on some level it’s probably fucking tiresome to FSG, or the Steinbrenners, or the Ricketts family to pay the tax and watch so many teams just pocket the cash. What’s the point? Would they feel differently if that cash had to be used on players for those teams? Or if those teams had to pay some penalty for not spending up to some level? Somehow I tend to doubt it.

Still, I’m a Cubs fan and I live here and that’s what matters to me most. And the Red Sox are in the similar situation. This isn’t about staying solvent. It’s just about the degree of profit they want to make. And until they open their books, there’s no reason to believe a word any of them say. There’s no reason to believe that a $250M or $300M payroll would cause John Henry or Tom Ricketts to make less money for themselves than you or I would see in 11 lifetimes.

But Henry can point to four parades over 15 years. In a city as championship drunk as Boston is, they probably will only sell a handful less tickets. They’ll get away with it. And that’s probably what’s more infuriating about it all.

Baseball

Here’s another player who fits the Sox needs almost too perfectly, so getting my hopes up that they sign him is basically folly. Let’s talk about him anyways because it’s snowing outside and what else are we gonna do on a Monday morning?

We’ve gone over ad nauseam about the pathetic output the Sox have gotten out of the RF spot the past few years, but here’s one more stat to hammer that point home: In the past 3 seasons, the White Sox are 29th out of 30 for production out of the RF spot in the major leagues.

They’ve accumulated a whopping 1.3 WAR from RF in those three years, and if Daniel Palka wasn’t playing out of his mind in 2018 this number would probably be negative. In comparison, the teams the Sox are chasing in the Central have gotten 6.9 (nice) and 12.0 respectively (Indians and Twins).

Marcell Ozuna, come on down!

Why Him?: Mostly because he’s young(ish) and hits with pop from a premium position of need for the White Sox. Last season was something of a down year for Ozuna, having a .241/.378/.472 slash line with a 110 wRC+ and 2.6 WAR. He also a +2 DRS for the Cards last season, though he split time in left and right field.

So for a right fielder those aren’t the greatest numbers in the world but even with his down season he still hit 29 bombs in a pretty cavernous Busch Stadium. He’s also only 2 years removed from a .312/.376/.548 season where he hit 37 dingers and drove in 134. In addition, he also won a gold glove that season to go along with his AS Game appearance and Silver Slugger Award.

Honestly, if he were to split the difference between last season and his 2017 one those stats alone would be enough to merit a very hard look by the Sox front office. A .275/.370/.495 line would mark the best production for the White Sox RF position since Jermaine Dye was gunning runners down from out there.

He’s also entering his age 29 season, so it’s not like the regression monster will becoming for him anytime soon. Moving from Busch stadium to The Down Arrow should also help his power numbers. With only 330 to the Sox bullpen in left as opposed to the 338 in Busch you would think that’s worth another few home runs. In short, the Sox should rectify their mistake of not attempting to trade/fleece the Marlins a few years ago by signing him to a 5 year deal.

Why Not Him?: There’s always the question of cost, as Ozuna will likely be the most expensive outfielder available on the market this winter. On top of that, the Cardinals extended him a qualifying offer last week, so any attempt to sign him will cost the Sox a draft pick (though that shouldn’t matter in the slightest, but it’s Rick Hahn).

He’s also not amazing in the outfield, but the Sox are going to have to decide if they’d rather hit the shit out of the ball or have a gold glove caliber outfield because unless you’re the Astros you can’t have both. A +25 career DRS score and a +4.7 career UZR/150 rating isn’t bad, and it’s certainly an upgrade over what the Sox had been trotting out there. Having a fully armed and operational Luis Robert patrolling center field would help as well.

Also, his facial hair is very confusing to me. What is going on here?

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend?: Fangraphs has Ozuna getting a four year deal for at total of around $70 million with an AAV of about $17.5. Assuming the Sox are always swimming upstream in the free agent market due to the ever-present cheapness of their owner I would think a 4 year deal at $19 million per season would be around his asking price.

He’s also not represented by Scott Boras, so there’s another point in the Sox favor as we all know the long an contentious history between him and Jerry Reinsdorf. The Cardinals are said to be interested in bringing Osuna back, which could potentially create a bidding war for his services though this could just be conjecture dropped by his agency to up his price.

With not much OF help available in the free agency pool in 2021 (other than Mookie Betts, and if you think the Sox will be in on signing him, I’ve got a wall in Colorado to sell and build for you) and not much in the way of assistance coming from the farm system anytime soon it would seem that Ozuna is the best option for the Sox via the open market. I’m not really interested in Nick Castellanos (even though Wes did a pretty good job of selling him to me) as he’s not an OF long term and the Sox have plenty of first baseman. Yasiel Puig could be an option, but I don’t think him and Renteria are gonna get along very well. That leaves us with Marcell, and you can do a ton worse if he’s your right fielder for the foreseeable future.

Get it done, Rick.

 

 

Baseball

Mookie Betts accomplished what seemingly was impossible last season. Deservedly winning the MVP over Mike Trout. Because honestly, when Trout’s healthy, there shouldn’t be a debate. But Betts collected 10.4 fWAR last year, highest of anyone. It’s actually the second time Betts has been in Trout-territory, as he was around there in 2016 but Trout took home the award. The past four seasons, Trout and Betts are in their own stratus, as each have collected over 25 fWAR (Trout a pretty unconscious 31), and only two other players even have 20 (Altuve and Lindor).

Unlike Trout though, Mookie hasn’t stayed there this season. Betts has seen a 79-point drop in his average, a 50-point drop in his on-base percentage, and a 157-point drop in his slugging. It’s one of the reasons the Carmines have hung around .500 and are looking up at the Rays and Yankees after dusting them in the AL East last year. So what’s the deal?

Well, honestly, it’s nothing that Betts is doing. He’s actually walking more this season and striking out a touch less. What he’s not getting is any luck. Which we pretty much know isn’t infinite, because Betts got all the luck last year.

In 2018, Betts’s BABIP (say that five times fast) was .368. That was third-highest of any qualified hitter, behind teammate J.D. Martinez and the NL MVP Christian Yelich. Those are dominant hitters, so to call them lucky is unfair, but BABIPs in the .360s or .370s clearly are an anomaly. Betts made a ton of loud contact to carry a higher-than-average BABIP, as his 44% hard-contact rate would tell you. Still, .368 is absurd.

This year, Betts is carrying a .285 BABIP, second-lowest of his career. Things are not falling in. Yes, his contact numbers are lower. It’s a 41% hard-contact rate now. And a 19% line-drive rate instead of a 22%. If you go by Statcast, last yea his average exit velocity was 92.2 MPH, and this year it’s 90.4. According to that, he’s below what he should be in terms of slugging and weighted on-base with the contact he’s making, but not by all that much.

As far as how he’s being attacked, there isn’t too much difference. He’s seeing a scosh (technical term) more fastballs, but not really worth remarking on. Again, it might be a luck thing. Last year, Betts slaughtered sinkers to the tune of a .449 average. This year, it’s .267 with a .257 BABIP instead of a .457 one. But he actually is hitting them for line-drives more often. He’s also been woeful on cutters this year, hitting .154 on them after .355 last year. It seems like pitchers have made one change, and that’s only staying to the outside on them with Betts.

Because of that and more Betts has made a concerted effort to go the other way, but he’s never had a lot of power the other way. He’s only slugging .354 when going the other way this year, and even last year when he was crushing everything it was only .429.

Which makes for an itchy debate for the Red Sox front office, as Betts only has one year left in arbitration. They gave him $20M this year, and you’d think that’ll be $25 or so next year. But is Betts a $25-30M player every year as he was in ’18 and ’16? Or is he 5-WAR player he was in ’15, ’17, and this year? He’s not worth a Trout contract, but then who is? The market is certainly sliding the Red Sox way on this, of course.

Basically, the lesson here is that you can rent in Trout-land, but it’s nearly impossible to own.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Red Sox 14-17   White Sox 13-15

GAMETIMES: Thursday and Friday at 7:10, Saturday 6:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: WGN Thursday, NBCSN Friday-Sunday

FRUSTRATED WOMEN: Over The Monster

PROBABLE PITCHERS

David Price vs. Lucas Giolito

Chris Sale vs. Reynaldo Lopez

Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Manny Banuelos

Rick Porcello vs. TBD (most likely Dylan Covey, or Dylan Arrieta to Fifth Feather)

PROBABLE RED SOX LINEUP

Andrew Benintendi – LF

Mookie Betts – RF

J.D. Martinez – DH

Xander Bogaerts – SS

Rafael Devers – 3B

Michael Chavis – 2B

Mitch Moreland – 1B

Christian Vasquez – C

Jackie Bradley Jr. – CF

PROBABLE WHITE SOX LINEUP

Leury Garcia – LF

Tim Anderson – SS

Jose Abreu – DH

James McCann – C

Yoan Moncada – 3B

Jose Rodon – 2B

Yonder Alonso – 1B

Ryan Cordell – RF

Adam Engel – CF

 

After digging through the muck of the Tigers and Orioles for a couple weeks, the White Sox get to…dive back into the much that the Red Sox have been for the season’s first month.

The Beantown Nine have pulled this act before. They won the World Series in ’13, and then were so bad the following season they ended up punting Jon Lester among others midseason. Apparently the party never stops in Boston when they win…except for the Patriots who aren’t allowed to party by Bill Belichek. It actually took the Red Sox two years to round back into form after the last championship, making the playoffs the last three years, and BoSox fans can only hope they’ll come around a touch quicker this time.

Maybe they already are. They come to the Southside after sweeping the equally struggling A’s at home the past three days. They put up 21 runs over those three games, so the hope would be that the offense is finally clicking into gear. Because really, there’s no way this lineup should be struggling to put together innings. And yet here the Carmines sit at 10th in runs in the AL, 9th in OBP, and 10th in wOBA.

Where the blame goes is probably the supporting cast. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are hitting, and Betts being a perennial MVP candidate you’d figure that. So’s J.D. Martinez. But Devers has shown very little power this year, as it’s never a good sign when your on-base is higher than your slugging. Second base has been something of a sinkhole, though Michael Chavis is putting in a strong claim at the moment. Benintendi isn’t really hitting yet and Moreland has only been ok.

The problems just don’t end there. The rotation has been a quasi-zoo. Chris Sale can’t decide if he wants to throw not hard enough or too hard to compensate, and has been getting paddled either way to the tune of a 6.30 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. Natha Eovaldi is hurt, because guys throwing max effort 97 MPH fastballs pretty much every pitch aren’t all that stable. Who knew? Rick Porcello himself has been gasoline, and one day may end up the weirdest goddamn Cy winner in history. The dude won it and hasn’t managed a sub-4.00 ERA since. How did that happen? Only David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez are holding this rotation together.

The pen has been middling, though hasn’t really missed being shorn of Craig Kimbrel or Joe Kelly (who sucks anyway). The Red Sox are big proponents of finding just any dude lingering around to fill out the pen. So far, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, and Brandon Workman have been excellent out of there, and the only people who recognize them are their mothers and even they’re not totally sure. Ryan Braser is the closer here, and he’s got six saves, but he allows more contact than most closers, only striking out a touch over seven hitters per nine. Heath Hembree and Tyler Thornburg are where you’d like to break through.

For the pale version of footwear, Lucas Giolito comes off the DL to start the opener, and hoping to be a touch better than his last three starts had him. Reynaldo Lopez looks to keep his momentum going, and everyone else just exhales in not having to watch Ervin Santana again. Weather could play a role again as tonight’s forecast is iffy, but the rest of the weekend looks better than it’s been. The Red Sox probably think this is their chance to really springboard into the rest of the season. The White Sox are probably just happy to not be super depressed by looking into the other dugout.