Here is the first of many roundtables that will be coming in the next few weeks here at Beyond the Boxscore. This one ran over our expected time a little, but what do you expect from getting 4 Red Sox fans and an extremely knowledgable Mets fan into a discussion?
In this roundtable we have BtB writers Matt Kizner, Dan Scotto, and myself, Marc Normandin, as well as special guests Randy Booth from Over the Monster and Evan Brunell from Firebrand of the American League, now found at All-Baseball, formerly of Most Valuable Network. Each writer was given the opportunity to present a question, and answers were then given by each participant. On to the questions!
Matt Kizner: With the bullpen being a major issue, should changes be made to the closer, the set up men, and if not, are trades necessary to shore up what should have been one of the red sox greater returning strengths; or are things okay, and we're imagining Foulke's 9th inning escapades?
Evan Brunell: Okay, first off, the term "the bullpen being a major issue" is incorrect; it is NOT a major issue. Excluding Foulke, I have been pretty happy with how the bullpen has performed. The Globe said today Mantei has a 0.75 ERA in something like the last 11 appearances, Mike Timlin is ageless, Embree has surprisingly lost zero velocity which was the main worry. Neal is --- was --- an issue, but now we have my boy, Cla, up, so no worries there, he will come around. I like Cla's movement, once he gets straightened out mentally, he'll be fine. The point is moot though when Curt comes back, Cla goes down. The way Wake has been pitching, he will go to the bullpen, which actually strengthens us. Damon was talking in his book about how Wake moving to the rotation really hurt the bullpen. And Foulke ... I am not worried about, he's been gradually becoming sharper; take away the OAK shellacking and hes been very good the last 6-7 games. So minus Foulke, we've been pretty on target, add foulke, and we're insane
Randy Booth: Foulke has been less than stellar, that's a definite, but he's one of the best closers in the league and if there is one thing closers can do, it's rebound. We just need to give him more innings, and that's evident in the last few weeks where he has thrown well in consecutive games. Like Evan said, take away that Oakland disaster and we wouldn't be worrying about him. Right now. Matt Mantei has been AWESOME. Cla may be Evan's boy, but Mantei is my boy. I've been pulling for this guy for awhile, and he's just been great for a long stretch of time so far. He has a lot of heat, 95+, and his curveball is just unhittable some days. He's definitely a great pickup by Theo. And Timlin has been Mr. Automatic. There's no doubt he's been the glue of the bullpen for a few years now, and it doesn't seem like that's changing. Then there is Mike Myers who has been pretty much perfect in his appearances...when he isn't facing a righthander. Embree is a little scary to watch, but he has his moments. The bullpen should be just fine -- especially if Cla emerges as a quality reliever.
Dan Scotto: I'll start with the second part: Keith Foulke is a fantastic pitcher. Talk about peripherals all you like, but start with ERA on this one. Foulke's ERA has been under 3 EVERY year since 1998. He's a top notch reliever. This is just a bad stretch for him, and they happen to the best of them. I would not be concerned unless he was still pitching poorly around the All-Star break. The rest of the pen isn't quite as good, but it's certainly not a horrendous weakness like it was back in early 2003. (Talk about closer by committee all you want, the problem there was a lack of talent, not a poor system.) There are no studs in this pen outside of Foulke, no Huston Streets or Brazobans, but it's a solid pen. Might they need another arm down the stretch? It's a possibility, but if Mantei stays healthy all season, they've got a really solid 8th-9th combo. Just by looking at some AAA stats, Juan Perez is a AAA reliever with a live arm of sorts; he's had some nice high K-rates in the past and is doing so again. That and Meredith are probably better and a better value than anything you could net at the deadline in trade, so I think they'll be OK.
Marc Normandin: I'll start with Foulke too...I'm not too concerned yet (somehow) because this reminds me of his poor July in 2004. I remember sitting at the Oakland game Schilling started and having Oakland tie it up with some help from Foulke. His ERA "ballooned" to over 2.00. Its going to take awhile for his ERA to come back down just like it did for Smoltz with that opening week fiasco a few years back. I have faith he'll figure it out, as all of you have said so far, he looks sharper by the day, and atleast two of those homeruns came on good pitches. One of them came on an awful pitch to someone on the Tigers up near his face...no way thats a pitch you get your talent criticized for. As far as the rest of the pen is concerned...I'm extremely excited with Mantei's progress, and I hope Meredith turns into a stud as soon as you know, this week. Timlin never worries me, but Embree looks off at times. Wakefield to the pen is a scenario I might like, solely because coming off Clement and going to Wake will make me giggle. I don't think we should have to make deadline deals for bullpen arms, especially with the multitude of arms in the system right now. Try out some of those players who are not going to stick as starters in a year or two in the pen and see if you get lucky. I'm talking about DiNardo and company by the way.
Matt Kizner: Shall we just call it a minor malfunction in the cogs of the Red Sox System, Evan? Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but your blinding optimism is just that, blinding. It's wrong to so abruptly discard Foulke and say the rest has been good and he'll rebound when Foulke has been blowing games, and 9th inning leads are insecure. After last postseason, where the meltdown of Rivera, and the consistency of Foulke and our bullpen were so crucial, I don't want there to be any questions. The postseason, where we know and want the Sox to be, hinges on not just our bats and our starters, but our bullpen, and there are some major question marks right now. ERA
April 2005 6.55
May 2005 7.88
April 2004 0.60
May 2004 1.54
April 2003 2.03
May 2003 2.51
Blame it on Oakland if you want, but the numbers don't lie, he's off to worst start in 3 years, and the Oakland "disaster" doesn't skew 2 whole months worth of stats. You're all making it sound like it was one bad game, or one bad week. One bad week doesn't do what these numbers are showing. Maybe it's time to bring in Embree or Mantei to close a few games and give Foulke some time to figure out his mechanics. I can't speak for all of you, but I worry when traditionally hot starters don't start that way, and when traditionally consistent pitchers are the very antitheses of that, I worry.I don't care if Foulke is throwing the prettiest pitch you've ever seen, if it ends up over the fence, it's a problem, and you all need to see that. However, I am pleased with the rest of the pen, and barring any more Foulke fiascos, I think we should be great down the stretch, as many of you have alliterated above. You're all being uber Red Sox optimists, I'm just being a realist and suggesting until Foulke finds his stride, we go with the hot hand
Dan Scotto: Could you name 5 hitters in the league that are better than Manny Ramirez (disregarding his slow start)? Is Manny in that class?
Matt Kizner: No, I can't name 5 hitters in the league better than Manny, I can name maybe 2:
Albert Pujols and Vlad Guerrero and Manny I think are my top 3. With someone like Todd Helton, and maybe even a Michael Young rounding out the list..I give Ichiro and his "I hit single and run fast" routine no respect. Manny, regardless of his slow start, has the 5th highest career avg at 314 of any hitter in the 400 club, and has been one of the most dominant and consistent players in baseball for almost a decade, he deserves the respect he gets and is without question, a top 5 hitter.
Randy Booth: I can name two: Pujols and Ichiro.
Evan Brunell: Alright let me give you your five: Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Vladimir Guerrero, Justin Morneau. Five. And yes, I'd take them all over Manny ... Manny is slipping seriously v. LHP, currently he's under .200 so far this season. He is consistently around .300 v. RHP, meaning his higher AVG is a product of his LHP splits.
Marc Normandin: Alright here's my 5...Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton and Bobby Abreu. I'm not a big fan of Vlad as a pure hitter type; he's an excellent player but as far as top 5 goes I feel like I have to give the more complete hitters their due.
Randy Booth: I'm not sold on Helton. I know he's a great hitter, but I think his numbers are ballooned a little bit just because he's in Coors Field.
Matt Kizner: he's still a 330ish hitter adjusted, i'm sure marc knows the number
Evan Brunell: Abreu needs to get credit
Matt Kizner: Abreu will never get credit playing in philly
Marc Normandin: Helton has a .324 EqA this year, .344 last year....etc, etc.
Randy Booth: Since 2002, he has hit 95 home runs, and 62 of them have been at Coors. And he has less than 20 more at bats at home than away.
Evan Brunell: Coors Field lessens his effect, I agree, but he's a great hitter.
Randy Booth: Hitter is power hitter. You can't say that his numbers aren't up a little because he is in Coors.
Marc Normandin: No I know they are
Randy Booth: Helton also has a .310 away average, .380 at home. You can't tell me that is just from being away from his home ballpark. IF he was in a NORMAL ballpark.
Marc Normandin: Helton is affected by Coors yes, but EqA is translated and he was second in MLB last year at .344. Helton also plays in a division with PetCo and Chavez Ravine and SBC. So his Coors numbers are brought down somewhat again by his divisional road games (excluding the BOB Bandbox of course).
Matt Kizner: Well, we gave Manny props for a career .314. So avg that and Helton is still awesome.
Evan Brunell: Even if he went to Dodger Stadium he'd still put his #s up. And please remember this, Fenway is now, thanks to Theo, a massive hitters park.
Matt Kizner: Fear the Wall.
Marc Normandin: According to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox infield is in line for a major shakeup via free agency. Millar, Mueller, and Bellhorn all are supposedly leaving town, so who will replace them? Combine this with Damon's impending leave from Boston, and the Sox are in for an entirely new looking lineup. What are your ideas for what to do to fix the 2006 version of the Red Sox?
Matt Kizner: I want Hanley in centerfield, put Youkilis at third base, and Pedroia at second. Youth is the future, and we've got plenty of young talent, let's start showcasing it.
Randy Booth: I think Youkilis is a given at third base. He's a stud and he's just been producing non-stop at the major league level. Renteria, obviously, at short. I think Dustin Pedroia -- yes, Pedroia -- may be our starter next season...Pedroia is ready NOW. He has not once hit a speed bump since the beginning of college, and pro pitching hasn't slowed him down. Teammates have said that he could play in the MLB today, so why not promote him at the AS Break and give him time in Pawtucket? Then, for first base, we could quite possibley trade Hanley Ramirez, who is under-performing at this point in the season, for a first baseman. Ryan Howard, maybe? He's clogged with Thome at first. But there are options out there for a first baseman, but Millar is NOT the answer. Atleast, hopefully.
Dan Scotto: 3B will be Youk. Management likes him and he's done a nice job in the minors. His OBP could be a good replacement for Bellhorn's. Signs point to Hanley Ramirez in centerfield next year, but we'll see how that goes. Second base is tough because it's not exactly a strong position around the league. I think that Mark Grudzielanek is a free agent at second base, if you're looking for a solid player as a one year stopgap if Pedroia's ready for '06, I'd say that they should go for it. I'd assume that he'll be ready midseason-06... a guy like Miguel Cairo might also fit in as a half year stopgap. At first? I think that Paul Konerko is a free agent. I'm not certain about that.
Marc Normandin: I believe your correct, but too inconsistent for my taste.
Dan Scotto: But if he was, I'd explore signing him for the right price. The guy i really like there, though, is Lyle Overbay. I think that the Brewers will be looking to deal him with Prince Fielder on his tail.
Marc Normandin: Interesting, and something I never even thought of...not to mention he hit 50+ doubles in 2004 and Fenway was built to let doubles hitters thrive.
Dan Scotto: He's good defensively, and he smacks a lot of doubles. Unfortunately, the price might be a guy like Hanley Ramirez, but the Sox are stacked in the minors.
Marc Normandin: Not necessarily, they have J. J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks, so they might not want Hanley.
Evan Brunell: They might have eyes for Youkilis.
Dan Scotto: A package of guys like Brandon Moss + a couple of other guys may be a nice fit there, although moss hasn't hit well in the early going. I think that they'll need to add a solid hitter at first base, though, to compensate for some potential growing pains, but they're looking pretty good for the future with guys like Ramirez, Pedroia, and Youkilis being potential starters in '06 and all possibly being productive players.
End of Part One
Like I said, it kept going on. Evan and my own answer to question 3 can be found here tomorrow, as well as all of our responses to Question 4.