On July 1, we wrote about how the Red Sox were not a very lovable team and that NESN viewership was down 20 percent from the previous year. One of the reasons was that the Red Sox were simply not a compelling or exciting team.
So here’s the update.
NESN ratings have bounced back, the ballpark is still selling out, and the games have been more compelling with rookie Rafael Devers and trade acquisition Eduardo Nunez igniting what had been a drab team. And now it’s deeper into the season with the Red Sox holding a four- or five-game lead for most of the month. While the team has been without $30 million-a-year David Price and de facto captain Dustin Pedroia, it has excelled.
According to Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, the NESN ratings are down 9.8 percent through 117 games vs. last year at the same stage, which denotes a pretty big uptick from the July 1 numbers. The ratings are up 30.2 percent over the past 35 games. And in those 35 games, they are up 15.1 percent vs. the first 35 games of last year’s second half.
“I still think the biggest challenge for TV is options,” Kennedy said. “There are so many choices for people to consume content when they want — On Demand, etc. But absolutely playing better and consistency has provided a huge lift. Support at the gate has been there since Game 1. We are very lucky.”
The turnaround in performance has clearly added to the renewed interest in the Red Sox, even with the start of the Patriots preseason and the blockbuster trade made this past week by the Celtics.
If the ratings were down in July, why are they up in August? Give some credit to Dave Dombrowski, for one. He made the tough decision to call up Devers from Pawtucket. Tough because Devers is only 20 years old and there was no guarantee he’d be this good. When Dombrowski tried it with Yoan Moncada last season, it failed.
A day after promoting Devers, Dombrowski acquired Nunez in a deal with San Francisco, beating the Indians to him. Nunez gave an anemic offense a shot of iron.
While Nunez didn’t fit the description of what the Red Sox needed at the time — a power hitter like Todd Frazier — he has given them more than Frazier has given the Yankees.
The Sox have a 10-0 record when Nunez scores and an 8-0 record when he has an RBI. Dombrowski also made a good move in acquiring reliever Addison Reed from the Mets. We’ll see if his deal for outfielder Rajai Davis pans out.
Let’s face it, the star of the show — despite two shaky outings against the Indians among his five August starts — has been Chris Sale. His starts have become an event and viewership reflects it. He’s not Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, but he’s now in the conversation with them. The fact he strikes people out at an historic rate is compelling to fans, but it should be noted strikeouts are up around baseball. Sale is the rare pitcher who can go deep into games and make the best hitters look bad. Fans also appreciate his bulldog mentality.
The Price/Dennis Eckersley controversy has died down if not blown over. While it’s rarely mentioned, it’s still painful for Eckersley. The fact Price refused to apologize and the story was in the news for a while didn’t help the public’s perception of the team. But with Price nursing a triceps injury, it’s been a case of out of sight and out of mind. Price last pitched on July 22. After that game, the Sox were 55-44 (.554). They are 18-10 since.
Since our last state of the Red Sox, there have been many exciting games. Christian Vazquez’s walkoff three-run homer vs. the Indians on Aug. 1 and Doug Fister’s one-hitter against the Indians last Tuesday are two that come to mind.
The Sox also beat up on the Yankees in New York. There’s the narrative of a new generation of the rivalry between the Sox and Yankees, featuring Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in New York, Devers, Mookie Betts, and Andrew Benintendi in Boston. The rivalry still nets good TV ratings. The Yankees used to come at you with the Core 4 of Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, in addition to Bernie Williams. Now they come at you with Judge, Sanchez, and pitcher Luis Severino. You can see the rivalry stoking back up again.
The expectation is the TV ratings will continue to get better as the team enters a tough final five weeks with division rivalries and a four-game series against the Astros to end the regular season. The Red Sox also have a rivalry with Cleveland, which beat them three straight in the playoffs last year. The Sox split four games with the Indians this past week and are vying with them for home-field advantage.
Analytics costing scouts their jobs
It’s sad, but some of the analytic-driven teams are phasing out many of their scouts. The Astros cut eight last week. The Twins recently cut four. You don’t like to think about these incredibly talented baseball men being run out of the game. Although some of the younger executives say that’s not the case, it’s just “reorganization,” it sure looks like more than that.
Most of the reasonable GMs understand you need a combination of analytics and scouting to be successful. As a GM told me recently, “I’ve never seen a player who was chosen strictly because of the numbers become a championship player.”
That may be the case, but the reality is scouting as a way of evaluating players is dying. So many great baseball people who have devoted their lives to discovering talent no longer work in the game. This is very disturbing to Dave Dombrowski, who says, “You’ve got to have both.”
The roll call in Houston includes Paul Gale, Tim Moore, Tucker Blair, and Mike Wickham (who is the husband of MLB Network’s Heidi Watney). The list on the amateur side includes Zach Clark, John Martin, Nick Venuto, and Mark Ross, all longtime respected evaluators. The Twins let go the estimable Wayne Krivsky and his 40 years of experience. Also gone are veteran evaluators Marty Esposito, Alan Sandberg, Ted Williams, and Mark Wilson, who produced Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins for the Twins.
Ruben Amaro Jr. , who assembled one of the best scouting staffs in the game during his years with the Phillies, says he uses data all the time for defensive positioning, etc. But he also relies on advance scouting reports.
“People are viewing scouting differently now,” Amaro said. “I think it’s cyclical. People are going to come around and realize that you need to put your eyes on a guy, get background on him. Having been back in the clubhouse after being in the front office, I realize more than ever that makeup matters a lot. If you don’t have a scout out there to evaluate that part of the game, then you’re shortchanging yourself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting the data numbers and predictions and probabilities and that kind of stuff. I think that’s important information.
“I think scouting is still an ever-important process. You have to know about the player, what makes him tick, how does he handle adversity. Is he a heads-up player? Does he know how to play the game? What kind of fortitude does he have to play in a winning atmosphere and in a playoff atmosphere? I think you have to know the person and what makes him tick.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Amaro said about the firings. “A lot of those guys have given their entire lives to that profession. That’s all they know. It’s awful. It’s a shame.”
Apropos of nothing
1. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Sox retain Chris Young when his contract runs out at the end of the season. Young said he wants to re-sign with the Red Sox: “I don’t know, I thought I jelled well with the guys. It’s been a good relationship but I’m not sure about their plans.” Why is Boston attractive to you? “I’ve been able to find a fit. I think I impact the guys in a positive way. I love playing in Boston. It’s the most fun I’ve had in my career. Boston and New York are two great places to play. I like playing where winning matters. I enjoy being on good teams. I enjoy the pressure. If you don’t win people are upset about it. If you do win people will love you forever, so I’ll take that risk/reward.”
2. Carlton Fisk will be inducted into the PawSox Hall of Fame on Sunday at McCoy Stadium, capping a weekend of fireworks. Fisk will be honored before the 1:35 p.m. home finale.
3. The most interesting side story of the Yankees-Tigers brawl was the aftermath in the Tigers’ dugout. Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos were in a heated argument with Justin Verlander watching. Verlander got between the two to avoid fisticuffs, but Verlander then pointed his middle finger at Martinez. Apparently, Castellanos didn’t care for the fact that Martinez went over to speak to Gary Sanchez, who was in the middle of the beanball war, mostly in a fatherly way. Castellanos and Verlander let Martinez have it. Strange because Martinez was always considered the great clubhouse guy loved by everybody.
4. Remember when D avid Ortiz said the Red Sox should sign Nelson Cruz? He was right. Cruz continues to have big offensive years. The Mariners DH has 31 homers, 100 RBIs, a .930 OPS, and a .291 batting average. He’s in his third season with the Mariners and his first two produced 44 and 43 homers and 93 and 105 RBIs. Cruz in his first 19 games in August: .380 avgerage, 10 HRs, 21 RBIs.
Updates on nine
1. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Rangers — Middlebrooks has battled injuries but in between DL stints has been very productive for Round Rock, which could earn him a September call-up. Middlebrooks, 28, is not on the Rangers’ 40-man roster so he’d have to be added. He’s now being used at first base and the outfield, as well as third base. In 282 at-bats, Middlebrooks has hit 22 homers and driven in 60 runs to go along with a .255 batting average and an .861 OPS.
2. Hanley Ramirez, 1B/DH, Red Sox — Do the Sox want to pay him $22 million per season through 2018 or 2019? If Ramirez earns 1,050 plate appearances in 2017 and 2018 combined, and passes a team physical, he’ll also get another year at $22 million. With 456 plate appearances entering play Friday, he should be more than halfway there by the end of the season. The key for Ramirez would be to stay healthy for all of 2018. If he does, he’s in. If not, the Red Sox can walk away as there’s no buyout of the 2019 option.
3. Kevin Towers, special assistant, Reds — The game has recently missed the man they call KT. The former Padres and Diamondbacks GM, who made the game colorful and exciting, has had a rough go with throat cancer. Towers reports he’s doing much better as a result of a new trial drug.
4. Rich Hill, LHP, Dodgers – Hill has every reason to be distraught after he pitched nine no-hit innings against the Pirates, only to lose in the 10th on a walkoff homer. “I pitched as well as I could for as long as I could,” said the classy lefty. “It definitely hurt to give that up, but it hurt for our team. That’s what I was unhappy about.”
5. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles — It took him a while this season but the greatness has returned, which is going to make it even tougher for the Orioles to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent after next season. This season, with the bases loaded, Machado has gone 7 for 11 (.636) with 21 RBIs and three grand slams, all hit in August. Machado is the 10th player in baseball history to hit three grand slams in a month.
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — The consensus from scouts who have watched Sandoval recently: “Awful” was the word most used. Sandoval’s defense has come to a screeching halt, and his offense has also been suspect. Sandoval looks like a player who has gotten old way before his time.
7. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Giants — One of the problems he seems to have is his expansive repertoire, throwing up to six pitches. The feeling is if Samardzija could just cut down his pitch selection, he might improve.
8. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays — He never really got it going this season and now faces an uncertain future as a free agent again this offseason. Entering Friday’s action, Bautista was 23 for 148 (.155) in 37 games since the All-Star break, the worst batting average in the majors during that span.
9. Brad Ziegler, RHP, Marlins — It appears he cleared waivers and would make a nice extra bullpen piece. After struggling for much of the season, Ziegler had thrown 10 consecutive scoreless innings and converted all eight save chances since coming off the disabled list on July 29. Ziegler has $9 million on the books for next season and the prorated portion of $7 million this year.
From the Bill Chuck files — “From Aug. 3, 2016, to Aug. 22, 2017, Jackie Bradley Jr. played 162 games, hitting .248 with 23 HRs, 79 RBIs, and 163 K’s, with an OPS of .750.” . . . Also, “It’s fitting that Adrian Gonzalez’s 2,000th hit was a double. Between 2006 and 2016, he has had 10 seasons with 30-plus doubles; only Robinson Cano with 11 seasons has had more.” . . . Happy birthday, Sam Travis (24) and Mike Maddux (56).
Everybody’s digging the long ball
When it comes to home runs, baseball hasn’t seen a season like 2017 since ...ever. Entering the weekend, MLB is averaging 1.27 homers per game, the most all time — by a lot. Second is 2000, during the height of the steroid era, when the majors averaged 1.17 homers per game. And many of the leading sluggers are under 30. The highlights: