Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Could Be Right With The 2010 Boston Red Sox

So much negativity is not a good thing.  It eats away at your soul, leaving a festering wound that can only be remedied by eating away at it some more.  As Rick Pitino, in a rare moment of clarity, said all of those years before, "All the negativity in this town sucks!"  I can't help but agree with him after reading, listening and watching all of the naysayers for the past three days after the Red Sox were swept by the Tamp Bay Rays in a four game showdown this weekend at Fenway Park.  But is there anything really wrong with the new look Red Sox? 

It's not a surprise to learn that negativity is only good for those who sell it.  In our local sports market, negativity gold diggers include Dan Shaughnessy,  Michael Felger, and Tony Mazzerotti, to name a few.  They sell negativity because that's what gets people talking; and when people start talking, they start to read and listen more; they start to buy more newspapers and watch more commercials.  Their ratings go up when things go wrong.  I'm a victim of this as well (I keep telling myself) because I start talking back to the radio and the TV when I listen to some blowhard talk about the Red Sox these days - not because it irritates me to listen to them - but rather because they might be right this time. 

I'm going off on a tangent.  You see what negativity can do?  It starts to make you lose focus.  Back to my point.  Who really cares about David Ortiz's and JD Drew's decrepit swings or Marc Scutaro's complete lack of range?  I understand that the Red Sox should just buy a pitchback for their pitchers since the defensive part of their catching staff is atrocious.  But ask the Yankees about Mark Teixeira this year.  Every team has concerns this early in the year.  More importantly, the Red Sox are 6 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and a smidgen less behind the New York Yankees.

Interestingly, though, I think I've discovered the problem with the Red Sox this year - albeit in only 13 games.  Lack of hitting, spotty starting pitching, surprisingly mediocre defense and general lack of effort are all factors in what I will call Chemistritis.  Chemistritis is a knack for teams with numerous changes in the roster to experience a lull in performance as the season starts.  Spring Training is not a good barometer for understanding how the lack of team chemistry will affect wins and losses - the most important statistics in baseball.  And teams with new (and startingly rich) blood need some time to mesh as a unit.  I'm not a sabermetrician (Thank God for small favors) but wins and losses really are the most important stats in Baseball.  The most wins during the regular season gets you into the playoffs and the most wins during the playoffs wins you the World Series.  Readers from MIT will now sigh, shake their heads and stop reading at this point.  But I'm right.  John Henry and Theo Epstein would probably agree with me.

The case study for chemistritis has to be the New York Yankees over the past 10 years.  It seems they have new players trucked in every year.  Despite landing the biggest free agent every autumn, sometimes talent, luck and early season schedules simply does not determine a team's performance early on in the season as much as team chemistry does.  As demonstrated below, the Yankees made the playoffs despite poor beginnings in 4 of the last 6 years:

2009  14-16
2007  14-16
2005  11-19
2004  9-11

Don't ask me about the other years, the Yankees started off pretty well those seasons - ruining my point and all.  Similar to the 2010 Red Sox, these other Yankees teams made substantial changes during the previous offseason.  Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia et al all came over in these years.  These large egos and even larger pay checks had to grow accustomed to being part of a team rather than the team.  Not only that, these guys had to find new homes, get their families in order, make sure their three Mercedes and the family Bentley were shipped properly.  They had to figure out club house dues, the training staff, where to go when they get to the park and which locker was theirs.  Like all of us transitioning into new jobs, we get ourselves straightened out and then we focus on becoming part of the team.  At least the Red Sox and the Yankees have the money to spend on new players.      

You have 4 new players who are expected to make a dramatic impact on the Red Sox this year.  Between Lackey, Cameron, Beltre and Scutaro, our home town team committed almost $30 million dollars this year alone on new talent.  Further, Mike Lowell was shown the bench after he couldn't pass a freaking physical (turn your head and cough Mr. Lowell) and Jacoby Ellsbury was asked to move to Left Field.  I know.  These guys are all scuffling a bit now.  But a lucky break, a no-hitter or a game winning home run may kick start a moribund season.  Something that brings the team together is usually all that is needed to get a bunch of baseball players to start acting like a team. 

In other words, Chemistritis usually doesn't last.  Hopefully the negativity won't either.  But I digress.

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