Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will spend a lot of time this offseason trying to fix his team’s pitching, top to bottom.
The Red Sox are lagging behind several teams in the scouting and development of pitchers, and they will try to identify and hire strong evaluators to enhance the core program they have in place that deals with the development and health of pitchers.
Since 2002, when they drafted Jon Lester, the only major league starting pitchers they have developed are Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Justin Masterson.
They drafted Ricky Romero in ’02 but he didn’t sign. They signed good relievers like Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, but also had missteps like Craig Hansen. Michael Bowden never materialized. Casey Kelly, who was traded to San Diego in the first Adrian Gonzalez deal, could emerge as a decent starter, though he was taken as a shortstop.
In the last couple of years, the Sox have drafted Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Henry Owens, any of whom could emerge. They have added, through trade, arms like Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster (in the Dodgers deal), but Zach Stewart, obtained in the Kevin Youkilis trade, has not yet impressed.
Of course, the Red Sox have had to draft lower because their record has usually been very good, but they’ll get a high pick next June.
This is a far cry from an organization that at one time in the 1980s had an all-home-grown starting rotation of Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Dennis Boyd, Al Nipper, and Bob Ojeda.
“We went a lot of years without developing a pitcher,” said Oakland GM Billy Beane, who presides over an organization that has been known for developing top pitchers and trading them. “Teams have droughts, and we’ve had our share of them, but we’ve also had good periods. I think we’re always trying to figure out how we can get better and do things better.”
One person the Red Sox should visit is Rick Peterson. At least hear him out.
Peterson began to establish his reputation in Oakland, where Beane made him his “Moneyball” pitching coach. Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson all excelled in those early years under Peterson. Later with the Mets, future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were transformed late in their careers by Peterson.
When Peterson was out there last season, the Red Sox never listened to his detailed presentation about a scientifically based biomechanics program that makes sense on so many levels.
“He has a disciplined program, and he did fantastic job when I employed him,” Beane said. “A lot of things that Rick did, we still do in our organization now so many years later. Very bright. It’s a whole program and one that makes sense.”
Orioles GM Dan Duquette hired Peterson and made him director of pitching. In spring training, Peterson put his program to work, sending 40 pitchers to Dr. James Andrews’s clinic in Birmingham, Ala., at a cost of about $40,000 — a small price to pay for such detailed analysis.
The analysis identifies flaws in mechanics that could lead to arm problems. The next step is correcting the flaws and getting the pitcher to excel.
Peterson was able to send Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez to the big leagues as viable, consistent pitchers.
Gonzalez, you’ll remember, was a Rule 5 pick by the Red Sox, taken off the Angels roster in 2008. In parts of two seasons here, he didn’t show much promise, going 0-5 with a 6.17 ERA at Double A Portland and making one decent appearance for Triple A Pawtucket in 2010.
He was released by the Red Sox in December 2011, and picked up by the Orioles. After Peterson and his staff changed his mechanics and his position on the rubber, Gonzalez went 3-2 with a 1.61 ERA and a 0.716 WHIP at Triple A Norfolk.
The Orioles, who have had pitching injuries, gave Gonzalez, now 28, a chance to start. He is 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA.
The Red Sox have gone through four pitching coaches in three seasons. Their pitchers have had to listen to the different philosophies of John Farrell, Curt Young, Bob McClure, and now Randy Niemann.
Pitchers, more than any other players, rely heavily on proper mechanics, and the repetition of delivery is key to success. You need someone who specializes in fixing such things.
The Sox could turn to people such as Tampa Bay’s Gerry Hunsicker, Atlanta’s Jim Fregosi and Bob Johnson, Houston’s Paul Ricciarini, Baltimore’s Bruce Kison, Philadelphia’s Charlie Kerfeld, San Francisco’s Dick Tidrow, and the White Sox’ talented group of scouts led by Billy Scherrer.
For the Giants, it’s been about consistency. Dave Righetti has been the pitching coach for 13 years. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner assists him.
“I think you really need two guys,” said Giants GM Brian Sabean. “But it has to be the right two guys. Rags and Gardie get along great and they’re on the same page.
“That’s the key, and that’s the advantage we have. We’ve been together so long that our pitching system is like clockwork. We’re focused on the pitchers’ delivery and arm action, we’re focused on schedules. We never adjust a schedule to move someone up if there’s on off day, so our pitchers will get a natural extra day when we have days off.
“In our system, we go with six-man rotations so we’re not taxing our young arms.”
The White Sox have had the benefit of pitching coach Don Cooper’s expertise.
“We believe in the pitcher’s delivery,” Cooper said. “A good solid delivery will enable maximum performance and command. It’s that, combined with our trainers — who we feel are outstanding — and a training regimen that’s designed to keep these guys in top physical condition. We have a great elbow- and shoulder-strengthening program.”
Cooper said he is not ruled by pitch counts but by what his eyes tell him. He’ll occasionally skip a side session to keep a pitcher feeling fresh for his next start.
Sabean thinks Tidrow is one of the best pitching evaluators in the business.
“He just has a real feel for evaluating pitchers,” Sabean said. “It’s hard to explain. Evaluating pitchers is one of the toughest things to do in this game, and we’re fortunate that we have the best.”
The Rays, obviously, are a pitching juggernaut. One of the most underrated people in their organization is pitching coach Jim Hickey, who has developed the reputation of being able to fix poor mechanics in a hurry. You don’t see Rays pitchers slumping for very long.
There are only a few good pitching organizations out there, and right now the Red Sox aren’t close to being one of them.
Apropos of nothing
1. Interesting that all of the coaches Bobby Valentine hired got only one-year deals. In fact, all of the coaching contracts are up at the end of the season. The Cubs will likely make a push for hitting coach Dave Magadan, bullpen coach Gary Tuck, and possibly even Tim Bogar, though Bogar may want to stay; the Red Sox persuaded him to stay on Valentine’s staff when he wanted to be reassigned in May. If Magadan leaves, Rudy Jamarillo may a be good choice to replace him.
2. Because Jose Iglesias has a four-year, $8 million contract that is up at the end of the season, the Red Sox maintain control of him. But they can’t just get him back on a Triple A/major league-minimum deal. He can be cut only 20 percent. So he will still make a healthy $1.6 million, whether he’s in the majors or minors. Looks like he needs to earn it.
3. The problem with getting John Farrell as manager is that much of the Sox roster has turned over since he was here. The only major players he has a relationship with are Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, Felix Doubront, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and (briefly) Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
4. I understand the massive outlay of money that broadcast outlets make for rights to carry games, but why would the Red Sox make Valentine do a talk-show appearance on WEEI as part of his managerial contract? Most managers are required to do pregame shows (on TV or radio), which Valentine does, but a talk show?
5. Who doesn’t love Mike Trout? But still leaning toward Miguel Cabrera as AL MVP.
6. Sure hope Jim Riggleman gets a chance to manage in the big leagues again. Did a nice job with Double A Pensacola.
7. If teams want to reduce pitching injuries, then outlaw cutters. They seem to be doing more harm than good, as pitchers are throwing more and more of them and putting more strain on their elbows and shoulders.
8. Sure would like to see Yankees bench coach Tony Pena get a chance to manage.
9. Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield has survived three managerial changes in Toronto. Like NESN’s Matt Stairs, he makes his offseason home in Maine (Butterfield in Portland, Stairs in Bangor).
Apropos of something
John Henry’s empowering of Bill James has raised some eyebrows about the direction of the Red Sox. Last winter, we wrote about the lack of veteran baseball people in the organization.
The Sox surely have bright young minds, which is terrific, but it’s not balanced by veteran baseball people with a track record of picking strong talent.
We’re sure what Henry meant is that James’s input should be used more often than it was under Theo Epstein, and we know from colleague Peter Abraham’s recent story on Tom Werner that Werner believes the team will hire veteran baseball people.
So the enhancements in both statistical analysis and real-life scouting should be positive. But one cannot work without the other.
For the size of the organization and its resources, the Red Sox’ major league scouting staff is relatively small. They don’t even employ strong veteran evaluators like Gary Hughes full-time.
They don’t have a bona fide minor league outfield instructor, and you can see that the outfield fundamentals are awful, especially at the major league level, where they may have the worst arms in baseball.
You may see a more conscious effort in the organization to at least improve arm strength. It’s sad when the guy with the strongest arm on the team is a coach, Alex Ochoa.
Updates on 9
1. Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants — MLB is investigating his fake website, and the feds are probing Cabrera’s activities, so his problems could range beyond the 50-game suspension. But if he’s cleared of charges, he seems to have a market, albeit not the extensive one he would have had. The GMs we asked said they would stick to a one-year contract, but as one said, “If there’s competition for him, someone will go multiyear.”
2. David Murphy, OF, Rangers — Josh Reddick may be the player Sox fans most lament losing, but you can’t ignore the season Murphy has had in Texas. He entered Saturday at .316, fifth in the AL. Murphy was traded along with prospect Engel Beltre for Eric Gagne in 2007 and has emerged as a very good outfielder and hitter. It is a reminder of the outstanding drafts David Chadd had when he ran the Sox scouting department. Chadd was also responsible for Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester.
3. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs — One veteran talent evaluator thinks many teams have missed the boat on acquiring Soriano. Sure, Soriano vetoed a deal to San Francisco, figuring the weather wouldn’t be good for his knees, but he has been a fairly consistent player throughout his career and the Cubs are willing to eat much of the $42 million remaining on his deal. While he’s not the centerpiece of any lineup, is he not a good left field option for a team seeking a righthanded middle-of-the-order bat?
4. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals — Carpenter, recovering from a nerve issue that affected his right shoulder, is determined to pitch by the end of the season. He has thrown to hitters twice and will do so again Monday in San Diego. Carpenter, who is signed for $11 million next year, when he will be 38, said, “I need to make sure that I’m good enough to help this ball club.”
5. Mike Napoli, C/1B, Rangers — He’s not having the best of seasons, but the Red Sox will look long and hard at him as a possible first base/catcher platoon, perhaps even with James Loney, whom they are interested in re-signing. Napoli has the perfect Fenway swing.
6. Hideki Okajima, LHP, Japan — He is trying to work his way back to the majors and is off to a pretty good start. In his first 46 appearances in Japan, he didn’t allow a run — until he gave up three last week. Many thought Okajima wanted to stay in Japan, but he wants another shot at the majors and may get it.
7. Carlos Quentin, OF, Padres — He might be one of the righthanded power hitters available in trade this offseason to teams like the Red Sox. Quentin has been injury-prone, but he has an .860 OPS this season and he maxes out at $10 million in 2016. The contract is very attractive for the small-market Padres, but they may be open to moving him.
8. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals — He spent only six games in Boston in 2009, but when he becomes a free agent after this season, the 32-year-old just may be on Boston’s radar again. LaRoche entered Saturday hitting .270 with 29 homers and 92 RBIs. His inside-out swing is made for Fenway (though in 54 at-bats, he has hit only .148 there). “I didn’t spend much time there,” LaRoche said, “but I enjoyed it. Loved the ballpark.”
9. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers — With Jurickson Profar’s emergence, Andrus could become major trade bait this offseason. The Rangers like Jacoby Ellsbury, and the Sox could definitely be enticed by Andrus, given that they don’t have a shortstop they’re completely sold on. Andrus is a terrific, hard-nosed player who would fit very nicely with Pedroia.
From the Bill Chuck files: “In day games, Paul Konerko is hitting an AL-best .352 and Daniel Murphy is hitting an NL-best .351.” Also, “Aaron Cook has made 219 starts and has never exceeded eight strikeouts in a game. Bronson Arroyo has an active streak of 277 starts without 10 whiffs.” And, “The last time the Red Sox did not have a 100-RBI batter was 1997; that streak will end this season.” . . . Happy birthday to Will Middlebrooks (24), Michael Bowden (26), Kyle Snyder (35), Robinson Checo (41), and Jim Corsi (41).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.