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Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:34

Roger Dodger – ‘They Bled Blue’

Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is entangled with its history. Even as we witness magnificent feats in the present, our eyes turn ever toward the past. Whether it is through statistics or stories, baseball fans love to look back.

Author Jason Turbow has a knack for transporting us to times gone by and thoroughly revisiting players and teams from the game’s history. We’re not talking about grainy black-and-white history, however – these are teams whose memories are still vivid in the minds of fans of a certain age.

His latest is “They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26). That mouthful of a title looks back nearly 40 years, digging into the particulars of an iconic franchise during one of the strangest seasons baseball had ever seen.

Seriously – the sport had never seen anything quite like the 1981 Dodgers. From the full-on phenomenon that was Fernando Valenzuela to the era-ending turn from one of the game’s longest-serving infields, from a season split in two by labor strife to the strangest postseason set-up ever, it was a time of turmoil and triumph.

Published in Sports

The Major League Baseball draft is vastly different from those of the other major sports leagues. In the NFL and the NBA and to a slightly lesser extent the NHL, draft picks are expected to join their new teams and start performing more or less immediately.

Not so with MLB.

Due to the sport's massive minor league infrastructure, baseball draftees aren't immediately thrust into the spotlight with the big club. In fact, it's a rarity for a player to have any real impact in the first couple of years after they've been selected. While the other drafts feature names and faces that we're likely to see quickly, we probably won't see our team's baseball selections at the big-league level for at least a little while.

Obviously, this makes draft grading an even more ludicrous prospect in baseball than it is in other sports. Predicting the future is already impossible - predicting the future of an 18-year-old high school pitcher with great stuff and questionable maturity is even more so.

Still, it's fun to look at the choices our team makes - even if we won't get the payoff until sometime further down the road.

So what does Boston’s 2019 draft class look like? There’s no first round pick thanks to luxury tax penalties (although it’s a small price to pay for winning the World Series), so their first selection landed in the second round.

The Sox have added 40 new players to their system. Among them are 27 collegiate players and 13 high schoolers. There are 21 pitchers, 10 of whom are right-handers with just five southpaws. There are 19 position players: seven outfielders, two catchers, five middle infielders and five first basemen.

Obviously, we don’t have space to discuss all 40, but let’s check out the top 10.

(Please note that, as always, we will refrain from assigning any sort of grade to this draft. The notion of grading a draft from which the players are literally years away from contributing to the team that chose them is utter nonsense. We’re not claiming a win or a loss here. This is just a look at who the team has selected, nothing more.)

Published in Sports

One of the longest-standing truisms in the athletic realm is that nothing is more important than inborn natural talent; while practice can make you better, there’s no amount of practice that can compensate for a lack of inherent ability.

But in baseball’s brave new world, with reams of data available at the press of a button, perhaps that truism isn’t quite so true after all.

“The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists are Using Data to Build Better Ballplayers (Basic, $30), by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik, is an exploration of the rapidly-blossoming notion that there’s more to it than that. Teams are turning their vast data-collecting capabilities toward the field of player development, trying to find ways to maximize the talent of their players in new and sometimes unconventional ways.

It’s a new frontier, one awash in high-speed cameras and swing gurus. It’s all about spin rates and launch angles and elevating the velocity of the ball, be it thrown or batted. And the people who are the earliest adopters, from the front offices to the fields, are reaping the rewards.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:01

Red Sox Report Card - May 2019

All in all, not a terrible month. Not a great month, but not a terrible month.

The Red Sox went 16-11 in the month of May, fighting their way back to the right side of .500. However, that’s not nearly enough in the grand scheme of things – they aren’t in fourth place anymore, having climbed up to third, but it’s a distant third … and it’s getting more distant by the day.

It’s not the fault of the Red Sox on the field, necessarily – we saw a fair amount of strong performances out of the team over the course of the month – but five games over .500 isn’t going to cut it when you have a Yankees team hitting its stride (and due to return some injured talent) and a Rays team that is proving surprisingly resilient.

Still, it beats the hell out of the trash fire that was April. And the team is still very much in playoff contention. Here’s hoping that Boston can make the same kind of leap in June that it did in May; we’ll really have something then.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports

Welcome to another season of Clubhouse Leaders!

Major League Baseball has by far the longest season in all of North American professional sports. MLB teams play 162 games over the course of six months before landing in October and the postseason. That lengthy stretch leaves room for a lot to happen – and a lot of changes.

We’ve hit the one-quarter mark of the 2019 season. Every team has 40 games or more in the rearview. That’s a significant chunk of baseball – enough for us to start looking at who the highest individual achievers for the season might be. Again, there’s a lot of baseball still to be played – 120 games worth, in fact – but we’ve got enough of a sample size to start thinking about which players might be in line to win MLB’s most prestigious individual awards.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 01 May 2019 10:20

Red Sox Report Card - April 2019

Not exactly the start that Red Sox fans were hoping for.

In a season where they were expected to be among the league’s best, Boston has instead spent the entire month of April below the .500 mark; they’re currently sitting in fourth place in the division, behind the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays and ahead of only the lowly Orioles.

It’s not ideal to see a team stumble out of the gate like this – particularly one coming off a World Series championship season and that was projected to contend for another this year – but fans have to remain calm. It’s early yet, and there’s a lot of baseball left to be played.

That said, the baseball that HAS been played hasn’t been … good. The 2019 Red Sox have struggled for stretches in all facets of the game, though they have looked better after an utterly abysmal start to the season. We’re here to talk about what has been, not what we hope is to come.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 13:06

Possible MLB milestones coming in 2019

Baseball is a game that has always held its own history in high regard. And one of the best ways to keep track of that history has been through statistical milestones, numbers that have come to act as a sort of distillation of greatness. Round numbers that represent on-field brilliance in an easy-to-understand way.

Granted, changes in the game are in turn changing these milestones. The way the game is played and the meaning of the numbers being tallied isn’t what it once was; the sabermetric revolution has altered how we look at these statistics. Still, there’s something undeniably special about those iconic career marks. While their relevance may fade someday, we’re not there yet.

Here are a few milestones that might be reached in 2018:

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 12:27

Play ball! A 2019 MLB Preview

It might be hard to believe, considering how much snow we’ve seen recently, but spring is here. Whatever the weather says, the truth is that baseball season is just around the corner! Spring training is coming to a conclusion – we’re on the verge of seeing games that count!

There’s plenty to be excited about in 2019. The biggest contracts in the history of the game have been signed. The stars are poised to pick up where they left off; reigning MVPs (Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich) and Cy Young winners (Blake Snell and Jacob deGrom) and Rookies of the Year (Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto) are all ready to get back to work. Meanwhile, new faces like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez are almost here. Plus, there are the names that we don’t know well (or at all) yet, but who will capture our attention before the season is through.

There are going to be a lot of home runs and a lot of strikeouts. There will be stars who perform to expectations and unknowns who shock the world. There will be delightful highs and unfortunate lows. There’s no way to say for certain what will go down on the field in 2019.

But let’s give it a go anyway.

Published in Cover Story

The times have changed with regards to major league baseball and free agency. The last couple of years have seen a drastic alteration in how owners have approached the business. Teams are far more reluctant to offer up the big-money deals that once ruled the landscape; even the best players are getting waited out.

However, we could feel relatively confident that we wouldn’t get TOO deep into spring training before the market’s two shiniest stars – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – would be signed to deals at or near the level they sought. In a game of contract chicken that was the biggest talking point of the entire offseason, both men held out for what they believed themselves to be worth.

Eventually, they found teams that shared that belief.

Published in Sports

Another year, another big class voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown’s Class of 2019 features four inductees voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) – including the first-ever unanimous Hall of Famer.

Longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be named on every single ballot, breaking the percentage record of 99.3 set three years ago by Ken Griffey Jr. Rivera is joined by the late Roy Halladay – also in his first year on the ballot – as well as career Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez in his last year of eligibility and longtime starting pitcher Mike Mussina.

Published in Sports
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