Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider John Henry’s comments on the front office’s use of analytics, Hanley Ramirez’s ongoing transition to first base, the potentially underrated signing of David Murphy, the hard-throwing nature of the new pitchers on the roster, the progress of the team’s young catchers, and a couple off-the-field stories for the coming season.
Back-to-back disappointing seasons will make any leader question their organization’s process. Red Sox principal owner John Henry did just that and revealed he felt the club had “perhaps overly relied on numbers” when making roster decisions of late. To those who still think jokes about Carmine – the Red Sox’s statistical database developed under Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington – are funny, Henry’s words likely rang true and signaled the beginning of a much needed change in philosophy. To those who appreciate what an analytical approach to the game can help bring (e.g., three World Series rings in ten years), the comments sounded like a search to assign blame and, perhaps, an over-reaction to last year’s disappointment. In any case, Alex Speier of The Boston Globe notes that the team is not retreating from statistical analysis. Rather it is actually committing more money to its analytics department but will incorporate a different approach in how that information is weighed when making decisions. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach and probably didn’t necessitate the media firestorm that resulted in the wake of Henry’s comments. Sure, Dave Dombrowski is known to prefer a greater emphasis on scouting and player development than on statistical analysis. That’s fine. But finding the ideal (and clearly elusive) balance between the two could lead to another prolonged period of success in Boston.
The second season of the hit show Find Hanley Ramirez a Defensive Position has started. This season Hanley tackles first base, though to some his move back to the infield arguably comes with more risk than his transition to left field in 2015. Dustin Pedroia reminded Hanley of just how important first base is in an ever so Pedroia way. Hanley has a lot to learn about the nuances of his new position, with limited time to do so. Regardless, Jason Mastrodonato of BostonHerald.com reports that the team is focusing on slow, simple, incremental progress. Red Sox third base and infield coach Brian Butterfield is the man in charge of transforming Hanley into a competent first baseman. The pace of Butterfield’s instruction has been planned with a keen awareness of the concerns over Ramirez’s health. Hanley is coming off a shoulder injury in 2015 that sapped his power at the plate, so the coaching staff is doing their best to avoid re-aggravating it. Despite these precautions, P.J. Wright of Boston.com writes that Pedroia is confident Hanley can make the transition to first base successfully. If he doesn’t the Red Sox have alternative options in Travis Shaw, prospect Sam Travis, and even (gasp!) Allen Craig, although fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together could prove difficult.
On Monday, the Red Sox agreed to a minor-league contract with outfielder Daniel Murphy. As Alex Speier of The Boston Globe notes, this is a smart signing that offers the team solid depth protection against any underperformance from Jackie Bradley Jr. and/or Rusney Castillo.
Hard-throwing, high-strikeout pitchers have been a hallmark of Dave Dombrowski’s previous teams. The additions of Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith and David Price ensure that the 2016 Red Sox will be no exception to this trend. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal spoke with each of these pitchers (and others) about the importance of velocity and about how correctly synchronizing pitchers’ body types with the mechanics of their deliveries helps maintain it.
Blake Swihart comes into Spring Training as the likely starting catcher, a considerable advancement on the depth chart from this time last year. This role requires him to take charge of the pitching staff, working as an on-field coach of sorts. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe writes that Swihart had always done well with this aspect of his position in the minor leagues, but had difficulty with it following his early promotion to Boston last season. Swihart’s comfort grew over the course of last summer, and this spring he is in camp working hard and providing insight to his battery mates.
Swihart’s catching partner Christian Vazquez is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, making important steps forward as camp progresses. Last week, Jason Mastrodonato of BostonHerald.com noted that the Red Sox were slowing Vazquez down in order to take the long, cautious path with his rehab. Then on Monday, Vazquez had an important throwing session that, as Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com reports, went really well. With this sort of continued, methodical progress, Vazquez could start seeing action in Grapefruit League games soon enough.
The 2016 season marks changes not only on the field and in the front office but also in the Red Sox broadcast booths. Dave O’Brien is moving from radio to join the television side, replacing fan-favorite Don Orsillo. Chad Finn, writing for The Boston Globe, spoke with O’Brien about the transition, reminding Red Sox fans that, despite Orsillo’s departure, they are still in good hands.
David Ortiz is embarking on his last trip through a major league season. Due to his star status, this final campaign will involve a farewell tour of some sort. The exact nature of the Big Papi celebration remains to be seen, but at Boston.com, Chad Finn hopes the farewell tour coincides with a victory tour. Ideally, Ortiz will ride a duckboat off into the proverbial sunset.
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