Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Boston Red Sox History Tidbits

Baseball is fun as much for the trivia, stories and tidbits of knowledge that accumulate as for the actual action that takes place on the field. The Boston Red Sox are one of the most storied franchises in the sport, and as such have a rich trove of factoids. Here is a sampling.

Much has been made this season about the “Red Sox flu,” which sent a number of players, and even a broadcaster, to the sidelines.  Heading into the season, the team has a troubling trend of player sick days, racking up a total of 85 between 2011-16. This represents $3.9 million in salaries during those days missed, and the most in the majors since during that time.

In 1967, rookie southpaw Billy Rohr began his career with two complete game victories (including a one-hitter in his debut) against the New York Yankees. He went 0-3 with an 8.51 ERA in his next eight games (six starts), and pitched his final major league games the next year at the age of 22.

Although the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets in heart-breaking fashion, it truly was a magical season for the team. As a sign of the special things to come, Dwight Evans hit the very first pitch of the season (for the Sox and all of MLB), off the Detroit Tigers’ Jack Morris, for a lead off home run on Opening Day (The Tigers went on to win the game 6-5).

In 2009, Boston signed promising 17-year-old pitching prospect Carlos Matias out of the Dominican Republic for $140,000. However, Major League Baseball discovered that he was born with a different last name and voided the contract on the grounds of identity fraud. He went on to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, adopted his birth name of Carlos Martinez and is now an annual Cy Young contender at the age of 25 for the Red Birds.

Right-handed pitcher John Dopson pitched parts of five perfectly average seasons with the Red Sox (1989-93), going 26-30 with a 4.29 ERA. He does hold one interesting team record, as his 21 balks during that time are more than runner up Roger Clemens’ 18 for the most in team history. 15 of Dopson’s balks came in 1989, which ironically was the year after “the year of the balk,” when baseball had more balk calls than any other year in history.

Entering, the 2017 season, All Star outfielder Mookie Betts last struck out during a regular season game on September 12, 2016 against the Baltimore Orioles and Oliver Drake before next whiffing against the Toronto Blue Jays’ Francisco Liriano on April 17, 2017—a streak of 129 plate appearances. Given the age of power pitching and free swinging hitters, this is a truly amazing feat.

Bobby Sprowl was a highly touted pitching prospect in 1978. The left-hander was the team’s second-round selection the year before and had posted a 2.10 ERA in his first season in the minors. Unfortunately, during spring training he was accidentally shot in the (right) arm while inside his Winter Haven, Florida apartment after his neighbor’s gun accidentally discharged and a bullet went through the wall. He recovered quickly and went on to win 16 minor league games that year before appearing in three Boston games at the end of the season. Unfortunately, that was his only season in Boston and he never recorded a major league win in parts of four years as a big leaguer.

Jack Rothrock played parts of eight seasons (1925-32) in a Red Sox uniform. Besides hitting .300 in 1929, he is perhaps best known for playing a different position for five consecutive Opening Days with the team.  Between 1928 and 1932, he manned shortstop, center field, right field, third base and left field on successive first games of the year.

Current Boston closer Craig Kimbrel has a fastball he consistently throws in the upper 90s. He credits this ability in part to a broken foot he suffered at the age of 18 when a panel of sheet-rock was accidentally dropped on his foot at a construction site he was working with his father. He went off to Wallace Community College that and performed a training regimen that included throwing from his knees while he was forced to be off his feet. This added to his arm strength and helped make him one of the most dominant pitchers in the game today.

The number worn most often on the Boston Red Sox has been 28 (worn by 56 different players). Most recently, reliever Robbie Ross has had 28 on the back of his uniform.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Boston Red Sox and 2018 MLB Free Agents

The 2017 Major League Baseball season has just kicked off but it’s never too early to look ahead to next year. There is an interesting crop of potential free agents, and the Boston Red Sox, who are annual players in the market, may look to go shopping once again. Let’s take a look at what players might be good fits.

No matter what happens this season the Red Sox won’t be heading into 2018 sweating out how to retain any of their major stars. To the contrary, first baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder Chris Young are the biggest names on the team playing in the final year of their contract. On a positive note, Allen Craig, who has hit a combined .139 in 65 games with Boston since 2014, is scheduled to have his $11 million 2017 salary come off the books. While the team may not have many obvious holes, they are always in the process of trying to get better. Here are some of the anticipated free agents that may help them do that.

Jonathan Lucroy- Catcher/First Baseman: Barring a breakout season from Moreland (which is happening in the early going), the team could be looking for an upgrade at first base for next year. Now that Hanley Ramirez has transitioned to designated hitter, it seems unlikely he would return to the field. Finding a more traditional first baseman could be costly given the premium at the position but Lucroy represents an intriguing option. A catcher throughout his career, he has also played 46 games at first since the 2013 season.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter would be a welcome addition to the team’s middle of the order. Coming  off a career year in 2016 where he hit a combined .292 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs with the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, he is a proven hitter who would be a great fit playing half his games at Fenway Park (he has three doubles and a home run in six career games at the venue).

The team struck gold in the past with a former catcher shifting to first base (Mike Napoli), so rolling the dice again makes sense. Lucroy is making $5.25 million this year, so a big raise is in line. However, he won’t break the bank and could provide the offensive production of an above average first baseman at a lower cost than some of the premium names. Now in his 30s and rating as one of the worst catchers in baseball at framing pitches in 2016, a position switch may be desirable for Lucroy as well as to maximize his offseason value.

Jarrod Dyson- Outfielder: Now in his second season with Boston, Young has done everything that could possibly be expected as the team’s fourth outfielder. That means his return is possible. However, if he chooses to go elsewhere, Dyson is an intriguing replacement option.

A completely different player than Young (who relies on beating up on left-handed pitching), the 32-year-old Dyson’s game is built on speed and defense. Able to play all three outfield positions, he hit .278 with one home run and 30 stolen bases last year in 107 games with the Kansas City Royals. He is just a .258 career hitter with seven home runs and 177 stolen bases over seven-plus seasons in the majors, and is slated to become a free agent at the end of this year with the Seattle Mariners.

A downside to Dyson, who bats from the left side, is that he is fairly useless against left-handed pitching, as suggested by his career .583 career OPS against southpaws. On the other hand, Young has struggled mightily against righties in the past.

Dyson’s true value is his glove. His 4.9 dWar over the past three seasons is even better than defensive stalwarts like Jackie Bradley Jr. (4.4 over the same period). Adding that to his speed should make him a strong consideration for Boston’s 2018 fourth outfielder role.

Clayton Richard- Pitcher: The Red Sox have plenty of horse power at the front of their rotation but lack a tried and true swing-man who can shift easily between starting and relieving. This is where the 33-year-old left-hander could come into play.

Richard is currently holding down the fort as the “ace” of the moribund San Diego Padres. His career has already seen various iterations, as he has shifted from starting to relieving and back to starting again (missing most of 2014 due to injury in between). He began last season pitching in relief with the Chicago Cubs; posting mediocre results. He ended up with the Padres and returned to the rotation. His 2.41 ERA in nine late season starts suggested he still has something left in the tank.

Relying on a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup, Richard doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but is a example of a hurler who truly “knows how to pitch.” This is knowledge and ability that has come with age and experience. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan recently pointed out how he has cleaned up his delivery in recent times and become an extreme ground-ball pitcher.

The Red Sox would likely not be interested in Richard if he has suitors trying to lock him up in their rotation for multiple years, as the salary he would command in that role could be prohibitive. Barring a Rich Hill-esque surge in 2017, all options are still on the table as to what his future holds. Boston ended up having a decent swing man last year in Clay Buchholz but it remains to be seen if anyone will fill that void this season. Going in strong on the lefty would be a good step in addressing that need and seeing what value they might find in the veteran.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Catching Up With Former Detroit Tigers Pitcher Steve Searcy

In the mid-1980s the Detroit Tigers were one of the most feared teams in baseball. Winning the World Series in 1984, they had an iconic manager in Sparky Anderson, and a roster full of talent, including the likes of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Hoping to keep their momentum going, they also focused on stocking their farm system with young talent to sustain their future. Unfortunately, the team slipped as they moved towards the end of the decade and into the 1990s; unable to develop the prospects to build a dynasty. One of those home grown players was left-handed pitcher Steve Searcy, who never became a star but did make it to the majors in Motown.

Searcy was not a natural southpaw. Born with osteomyelitis in his right shoulder, the bone inflammation forced him to do some things, including throwing a baseball, with his off-hand. Proving that the switch was not an impediment, he became such a skilled pitcher that he ended up at the University of Tennessee on scholarship. A stellar career as a Volunteer, including a 2.45 ERA in 95.1 innings in 1984, led to his selection in the third round in the 1985 draft by the Tigers.

Searcy quickly grew into one of the team’s top pitching prospects. In 1986 he was 11-6 with a 3.30 ERA in Double-A. A broken kneecap from a comebacker to the mound prematurely ended his 1987 season but he rebounded in 1988 to go 13-7 with a 2.59 ERA and 176 strikeouts in Triple-A. This earned him his call-up to the Tigers.

On August 29, 1988, Searcy toed the rubber for the first time in a major league game, facing off against Bill Long and the Chicago White Sox. The lefty went 7.2 strong innings but took the 3-2 loss in large part because of solo home runs he gave up to Carlton Fisk and Ken Williams.

Bouncing between the minor leagues and Majors for the next several seasons (1988-91 with the Tigers and 1991-92 with the Philadelphia Phillies) he pitched as both a starter and a reliever. He appeared in a total of 70 games (21 starts), accumulating a 6-13 record with a 5.68 ERA. Although he struck out 140 batters in 187 innings, the 119 walks and 25 home runs he allowed were indicators of things that prevented him from having greater success.

Searcy pitched in the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second half of 1992, and then for the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. Unfortunately, he struggled in both organizations and retired at the age of 29. Years after the end of his playing career he answered some questions about his baseball career. Keep reading for more on the former Tiger.

Steve Searcy Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Learn to study film. Just started when I was in the league.

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: Can’t say there is anything that sticks out, but I did have a player 0-and-2, and the umpire told me ‘anywhere close.’ I got strikeout on a ball inside.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jeff Jones, pitching coach with Detroit.

How did you find out you were called up to the major leagues?: I was bumped back two starts, and told on the third day I was starting in the Bigs.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew