Tonight We Got Cashner, I Suppose

All bets are off tonight as Andrew Cashner (9-3) faces off against James Paxton (5-5) in game two of this weekend’s four game set between the Red Sox and Yankees.  And I say this as a Red Sox fan still savoring the heady potency of last night’s 19-3 drubbing of the Yankees like a finely aged Amarone. So I’ll amend: all bets should be off, because if anyone tells you they know how this one’s going to go, they’re selling something.

Take Paxton.  In his lone start against the Red Sox this season, Paxton was breathing-fire dominant: 8 innings, two hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts.  Of course, one could argue (and I do) that the team Paxton faced then, on April 16th, isn’t the team Paxton’s going to face tonight.  Entering play on April 16th, the Red Sox were 6-11, had a starting pitching ERA in the low thousands, and were 20th in the league in runs per game.  Tonight, the Red Sox are 10 games above .500, 2nd in the league (by a mere hundredth of a run) in runs scored per game, and sport a pitching staff that is, for the most part, whole, even if it isn’t all that great.  

Paxton?  Well, on May 5th, he landed on the IL with a sore knee, and after his return, hasn’t looked quite as dominant as he was on that fateful day all the way back in April.  Since he’s come back, Paxton hasn’t lasted more than 6 innings in any start, and has gone more than five innings only four times, though, it should be said, three out of those four times have come this July.  Now, of those starts of more than five innings, those being 7/2 at the Mets and 7/7 and 7/15  against the Rays, he went 6 innings each time, giving up only 5 runs total over that span.  That’s good for a sub-three ERA, though the near-four FIP suggests he did get a tad lucky.  All that’s fine, but his last time out, he ran into a buzzsaw at the Stadium against Colorado, giving up 7 runs, 4 of them earned, en-route to a mere 3 1/3 innings of work.  That’s generally decent, but up and down, work, and all of it’s a far cry from the job he did against the Sox in April.  So while we might not be able to pinpoint exactly which Paxton will show up tonight, it’s a safe bet we’re probably not looking at getting blanked over eight.  Hopefully.  Knock wood, people.

Which, of course, brings us to Cashner.  Now, I’m not saying Andrew Cashner is a plant by the Orioles sent to Boston in order to exact revenge for the season-long beating the Sox laid on Baltimore in 2018, but I will say this: in his first two starts with Boston, he hasn’t exactly impressed.  Two losses, 10 runs allowed, 9 earned, with an ERA and FIP both over 7.  Oof.  Compared to his performance in Baltimore (where he sported a sub-four ERA), he’s really gone off the rails, but that said, is it really all that much worse than whatever else Boston’s had out of the five spot this year? Now, the one thing Cashner has given the Red Sox in his last couple starts is a little length.  In his (lackluster, but brief) time in Boston, Cashner’s gone at least five innings each time out, a marked improvement, generally, over Boston’s No. 5 starters to date.  And in that alone, Cashner might be serving his purpose: giving the Red Sox a little more length than they would have otherwise had out of a soft spot in the rotation, saving the bullpen just a bit, and maybe (please) sprinkling in a couple wins in for good measure.  

Which brings us back to tonight.  Maybe Cashner uses his four-pitch attack to keep the Yanks off-balance just enough so that the Red Sox don’t have the doors blown off the hinges by the third inning.  Maybe he goes six, leaves with a two run lead, and hands it over to Eovaldi & Co., who close the door and help Boston start to put the tiniest bit of pressure on New York in the division.  Or maybe the fifth spot in Boston’s rotation is cursed and Cashner gives us more of the same.  And sure, Boston’s offense could explode again, but so could New York’s. So: all things considered, and given Cashner’s recent performances and Paxton’s track-record against Boston, I’m giving the edge to the Yanks tonight.  I hope I’m wrong.

All Part of the [Master?] Plan

The Red Sox sub-replacement start has set all our teeth on edge, but don’t worry – it’s all Part of the Plan.  More or less.  I hope.  See you below the break.

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The Red Sox are 2-8.  The starting rotation’s ERA is something approaching one thousand.  Price hasn’t looked great.  Eovaldi’s cutter doesn’t seem quite as devastating as it once was.  ERod’s been uninspiring.  Sale’s velocity is down.  The bullpen looked okay-ish until that one time, at Chase Field, when Johnson & Co. gave up seven runs in a single inning (I had tweeted that the bullpen had been a bright spot moments before Ketel Marte launched a grand slam for his second home run of the night – lesson learned about timely tweets).  The pitching staff as a whole has allowed 23 home runs in the month of April.  They’re batting .249 as a team.  Mookie hasn’t signed an extension.  And in the only two wins they’ve had, the Sox didn’t take the lead for good until the ninth inning.

Yikes.

Now, I don’t mean to go out on a limb, here, but this was all by design, right?  I mean, they didn’t exactly draw it up this way – nobody could – no sane, well-adjusted mind could concoct from whole cloth the parade of horrors that Sox fans have endured so far this season, such as the rotation’s eye-gouging (think this guy) 9.60  ERA (functionally indistinguishable from and ERA of 1000, btw) – but once Alex Cora and Dana LeVangie announced their plan prior to Spring Training, didn’t you kinda sorta maybe see this coming?  The starters were going to have a lighter workload during the spring and, during the first part of the season, they were going to work themselves into shape.  And it just so happened that the scheduling Gods frowned upon the Sox this year, and gave them a brutal, 11 game west coast swing to start the season.  And the starters weren’t going to be ready for opening day, or, to be fair, opening week, because they were still working themselves into shape.  And we were going on a road trip for 11 games.  Eleven.

But relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax, it’s okay.  All is well.  Calma.  Because it’s not about the starting rotation working themselves into shape.  It’s not about Mookie’s contract, it’s not about getting blown out or not at Chase Field in early April, and it sure as hell isn’t about how I just watched David Price cough up another lead (ugh, these guys).  It’s about Wins.  Well, the marginal kind, anyway.

Put it this way: in order to repeat as World Series Champs, the Sox have to amass a certain number of wins during the regular season.  It’s gotta be at least enough to make the playoffs and, one would hope, win the division.  But here’s the kicker – there’s no award for amassing the more wins than you need.  If you could take the East with 93, 97, or 101 wins, there’s no advantage conferred either in the playoffs or anywhere else if you grab more than that.  If last year Cleveland won 95 instead of 91 games, do you really think they wouldn’t still have gotten swept out of the playoffs?  To make the playoffs on firm footing (i.e, win the division), you have to win a certain amount of games every year, but you don’t have to win more than that.

Since the Sox are a team steeped in analytics, I think they’ve crunched the numbers.  I think they’ve projected how many wins they’d need to take the East, and I think they’ve put in motion a plan to reach that target.  Further, I think they’re content to play replacement-level ball for a certain amount of time to start the season, after which time the team is confident that everyone will not only have played their way into shape, but also, given the delayed time frame according to which they’ve brought everyone along, that their pitching staff will have something substantial in the tank come September and October.

How do I know this?  I don’t.  But it dovetails nicely with the plan Cora & Co. laid out for the media, and look, they wouldn’t be the first team in the history of a major sport to not-so-tacitly-admit that early-regular-season games are disposable.  Hell, everyone knows Bill Belichick uses September as extended training camp.

So, with that in mind, how many games do the Sox need to win to make the playoffs, and quite how long can the Sox keep playing replacement-level ball before playing their way out of a repeat?

As it happens, there’s multiple projections on how many wins it will take to win the AL East.

If we look at the Vegas odds, we see that the Yankees, not the Red Sox, are the most highly regarded team in the AL East, with an over/under set at 96.5 wins.  This would mean that the Sox would need at least 97 wins to take the East, assuming the Yanks juuuuuuust miss their target.

As for FanGraphs’ Depth Charts, the Yankees are here too regarded as the team to beat, with a projected win total of 95.  Were Steamer to get this right, the Sox would need 96 wins to snatch the East from the Evil Empire.

Finally, Fangraphs ZIPS has 99 wins needed to take the East, and a roughly 50% chance that the final win total that takes the division will be somewhere between 93 wins and 100.

Using these three projections as a starting point, let’s say that the Sox play replacement-level ball for the entirety of their west coast swing, netting only 3 wins against 8 losses.  Here’s how they’d have to do the rest of the way in order to hit their targets.  Keep in mind that, last year, with essentially the same team, the Red Sox final win percentage was .667, and they played .700 ball as late as August.

Wins Losses Win Pct.
Depth Charts
93 58 0.616
Vegas 94 54 0.623
ZIPS 96 52 0.636

Doable, right?  Not desireable, if you’re a Sox fan, but doable!  Now, what if the Sox said to themselves, “hey, our guys are gonna be outta gas come October unless we use all of April as extended Spring Training.”  Riskier move, less room for error, and I think certain fans might literally combust if this happened, but here’s what they’d have to do the rest of the way to win the division if they played replacement-level ball for all of April (31 games, 9-22):

Wins Losses Win Pct.
Depth Charts 87 47 0.664
Vegas 88 43 0.672
ZIPS 90 41 0.687

Less doable, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, based on the numbers.  Now, what if the Sox looked around before spring training and threw up their hands and said “we’ve gotta go for broke.  We’ve gotta do something unprecedented, because we really don’t believe our best pitchers can be their best when it counts UNLESS…we use both April and May as extended spring training.”  Here’s what the Sox would have to do to reach their targets if they played replacement-level ball through the first two months of this season (59 games, 17-42):

Wins Losses Win Pct.
Depth Charts 79 27 0.767
Vegas 80 23 0.777
ZIPS 82 21 0.796

Yikes.  Let’s all just forget we saw this, shall we?

The point is, the Red Sox season isn’t over if they come away from this brutal, brutal, road trip playing at replacement level, and they could conceivably win the division if they played replacement-level ball a sight longer than that.  And to be quite honest, I think that was the plan all along: buy their rotation some time to round itself into form while giving the nod to the poorly disguised truth that the MLB season is probably a pinch too long.  But after this road trip ends, at the home opener, on April 9th, that’s when I think the real test begins.  That’s when we’ll find out if this road trip was just all a bad dream, or whether it’s the beginning of an extended, season-long nightmare.  Here’s hoping for the former.

 

 

 

WAR – What is it Good For?

Part 1: Getting to 1000

I’ve been a fan of WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, for quite some time.  For one, it’s convenient, as it seems to offer an answer, or at least an approximation of one, to important questions that people who love baseball care about.  For instance, how integral was player x to the fortunes of team y during z period?  That’s an important question when comparing players or even an individual player’s performances from year to year, and WAR helps us quantify that in a digestible, convenient way.  Mookie Betts had a WAR over 10 last year – so we can conclude that he was Very Important to the fortunes of the 2018 Boston Red Sox.  See?  Convenient, digestible.  Nor, as we will see in this series of posts, is this the only important question about baseball to which WAR offers a possible answer.  In the weeks following, I’m going to talk about WAR, the stat, and ways in which it could be used to highlight certain aspects of or help us pose questions about the Grand Old Game.  In this post, I’m going to talk about how the total number of Wins Above Replacement, of which there are 1000 in a given season, is derived.  I’m going to talk about how you get to the 1000, like, math-wise.  And thinking-wise.

At no point will I be explaining the basic utility or fundamentals of the WAR stat itself.  That ground is covered.  For an excellent primer on WAR, go here or here.  And trust me, any explanation I could offer for what WAR is on a fundamental level or how it’s derived would be redundant, as the above links explain it better than I ever could.  My interest is in using WAR, as presently constituted, as a tool to pose questions and suggest possible answers.

I decided to write about how the total number of Wins Above Replacement in a season was derived because it was a consistent stumbling block for me as I began reading about WAR, and I could find no satisfactorily complete explanation as to its derivation.  In fact, the more I read about WAR, the more the statement that there were “1000 Wins Above Replacement in a given season” popped up, each time in an axiomatic way.  Each time I read it, I thought to myself “great, but how do they know that?”  I never doubted the truth of the statement, mind.  I knew they knew, and I knew it was true (or, as I’d find, near enough to make no matter), but I didn’t know how they knew or why it was true.  That’s what this post is about.

So how are there 1000 Wins Above Replacement in a given season?  Well, if we want to find out how many Wins Above Replacement there are in a given season, we need to find how many total games there are in a season, then how many total wins and losses, and then, once we’ve separated the wins from the losses, how many of the total wins are Wins Above Replacement.  So let’s do it.

So How Many Total Games ARE in an MLB Season?

Imagine an MLB season.  30 teams, each of whom plays 162 games.  Some teams excel, some teams…not so much. Maybe you’re team is in it. Maybe they have a storybook season. Or maybe you’re saying “there’s always next year” by May 15th.

But to find precisely how many total games there are in a given season, that’s easy: 30 teams times 162 games per team, giving us 4860 total games.

Keep in mind that how many total games the teams play in a season and how many game events [read, ballgames that people attend and eat food and cheer and jeer at] there are in a given season are two different things.  In each game event, two teams are each playing a game against each other.  Every time, then, that a team plays in a game event against another team, that counts as one of the 4860, and thus, each game event, each ballgame, gives us 2 out of 4860 total games played in an MLB season.  Thus, it can be said that the 30 MLB teams play a total of 4860 games in the context of 2430 game events.   

So How Many Wins and Losses Are There?

So, with our 30 MLB teams playing a total of 4860 total games in a season, we next need to determine how many wins and losses there are in a season, and then separate out the losses, as we’re concerning with Wins Above Replacement, not losses.  So we realize pretty quickly, then, that in a given MLB season with 30 teams and 162 games, there are 2430 total losses for an average of 81 losses per team.  “But my team won 100 games!”  Good for you.  Someone else’s team won 62.  But if you don’t believe me, add it up.  Go to any season since the league expanded to the current format of 30 teams and 162 games in a season, and you’ll find that the average number of losses is approximately 81. 

Now, in terms of losses, all we need is the total number of losses, as all we want to do is separate the losses from the wins so that we can drill down into the wins to find the Wins Above Replacement.  81 losses per team is an average number.  I’m not saying that each team is going to lose 81 games.  It’s an average.  For some teams, you can think of them as Schrodinger’s losses. 

If you’re still unconvinced at the total number of losses in a given year, think about it this way: each of the 2430 game events in a given year has to generate both a win and a loss.  It’s a ballgame: someone wins, and someone loses.  Has to.  Can’t have a ballgame without someone winning or someone losing, generally.  Forfeit?  Results in a win or a loss.  Game suspended due to darkness?  They resume the next day and it results in a win or a loss when it’s finished.  Asteroid strike?  Assuming anyone is left around to record or care about baseball statistics, it will [probably] result in a win or a loss, or the game will be made up, in which case there will be a win or a loss.  So, after 2430 game events, both the win and loss button will have been punched 2430 times, leaving us, after a given season, with 2430 wins, and 2430 losses, or, more precisely, a number of wins and losses that are both equal (barring ties or game cancellations) to the number of game events in a given season.    

With 2430 losses in hand, we can subtract those from the total games in a season, that being 4860, and we find that, in a given MLB season, there are a total of 2430 wins.    

Getting to the 1000

Now that know how many wins there are in a season, (2430) we need to find how many of these are Above Replacement.  Thanks to the efforts of a bunch of Very Smart People and their Handy-Dandy Formulas, the number of wins we can chalk up to a replacement-level team has been established.  What is a replacement-level team?  It’s a hypothetical team composed entirely of fresh, new young faces from AAA, or, put another way, of replacement players. 

According to the Very Smart People’s calculations, a replacement-level team will win 29.4% of their total games.  So if we take .294 and multiply it by the total games each of the 30 teams play, that being 162, we get 47.628 games that each MLB team is pretty much guaranteed to win, as each MLB team is composed of talent that is at least at replacement level.  To obtain the league-wide number of wins at replacement level or below, we multiply 47.628 by 30, and we get approximately 1429.  Subtracting this number from the 2430 total number of wins every year, we find that, of that total 2430 games, about 1000 of them would be considered wins above replacement level.    

Since the nature of WAR is, like any stat, retrospective in nature, each of these 1000 wins are, to the tenth, apportioned out among the 800 or so MLB players using a Handy-Dandy Formula that, not I, but some Very Smart People, designed.

Why I’m a Fan of WAR

I like WAR as a stat because it’s a convenient tool for comparison between players.  Too, even though the WAR numbers shouldn’t be viewed as precise down to the decimals to which they’re generated, WAR ranges allow us, at a glance, to categorize an individual player’s performance in a given year and to compare that performance to other years in that player’s career.

The main reason I like WAR, though, is because I think it has something to say, or at least illuminate, about the economics of the game, and, to the extent we acknowledge that a WAR has a dollar value on the open market that can be quantified, where the true dollar value on a given payroll might lie and how much dollar value might lie there.  Along these lines, I think that WAR can help us frame questions about whether there are inequities in the compensation system in baseball and in what context those iniquities might lie.  Specifically, we might use WAR to help us ask how much a bargain (or not) young talent is to the various clubs, especially during championship seasons, whether the arbitration system equitably compensates players under club control, or whether the free agency system does a better or worse job of compensation, in terms of WAR and the dollar value attributed to it, than the arbitration system.

In next week’s post, I’ll be taking a look at two champions, the 2018 Boston Red Sox and the 2009 New York Yankees. Specifically, I’ll be looking at where these teams’ WAR came from, how much they paid for this WAR, and whether, and to what degree, the teams received adequate value for the price they paid for those WAR.

But this Thursday? Oh, we’re doing Game of Thrones. Wanna know who finally takes the light from Queen Cersei’s eyes? Check back here in a couple days, because I’ve got THEORIES.

Not Quite, Wright

Oh, Steven.

He was supposed to eat some innings this year, was Steven Wright.  Eat some innings and maybe work his way into higher leverage situations as the season progressed and most importantly shore up this, the most current iteration of the Red Sox bullpen.  You know, the one that I think we can all generally agree is going to need a little luck to hang together this year.  The one that lost Joe Kelly and (probably) Craig Kimbrel to free agency.  The one that, heading into 2019, had over 100 innings (many of them rather important) to replace on account of those two departures?

But heading into camp, all he had to do was grip that knuckler and let it fly. As long as his knee held up, he told Masslive, his arm wouldn’t be an issue.  It was that knee, that blasted knee.  Not that he regrets undergoing knee surgery in 2017, mind.  Or, ostensibly, the arthroscopy that followed it in November of 2018.  As long as he could stay healthy, it looked like Steven Wright could eat some innings.  I mean, it’s not like anyone was going to try to turn him into a pinch runner or anything.  Not after what happened last time

What he wasn’t supposed to do was get suspended for 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by testing positive for growth hormone releasing peptide [GHRP] 2, a compound whose most prominent on-label use is apparently in Japan as a diagnostic tool for the detection of growth hormone deficiency.  Suspended.  80 games. Can’t eat innings when you’re suspended for 80 games.  You can eat pizza, but not innings.  Ice Cream?  Sure.  Not innings, though.  Candy?  Knock yourself out.  But you gotta be able to step on the field in order to eat innings.  Eating innings is a strictly on-field activity, as activities go, and for Steven Wright, on-field activities, the ones that count, are out of the question for, oh, about 80 games, I’d say. 

To his credit, Wright denies knowingly violating the policy.  He said he didn’t know how it got into his system. He said that he didn’t know where it came from.  These comments might spark some side-eye, given that off-label uses for GHRP-2 advertised around the ol’ interwebs are for “enhancing performance both in the bedroom and in the weight room,” “reversing the effects of aging,”  and “better recovery from injuries.”  But it’s also perfectly plausible that Steven Wright, professional athlete, was simply unable to audit each and every ingredient in each and every salve, cream, and bromo applied to his body by what one must assume is a cadre of professional trainers and physical therapists, many, or all, of whom may have had only the noblest of intentions.  This is, after all, a guy recovering from a major surgery that has to date had a major impact on his career.  On the other hand, this is, after all, a guy recovering from a major surgery that has to date had a major impact on his career.  Whatever the case, however the offending foreign molecules found their way into Wright’s system in time to muck up his drug test last offseason, I’ll leave it to others to judge.  If you’ve tasted the honey of an all-star season in the major leagues, as Wright had, in 2016, who can say what you might do to get back there?   

But boy, does this one rankle.  Steven Wright was going to be a part of the bullpen in 2019, and, potentially, an important one.  This isn’t 2018, with Kimbrel and Kelly, when the bullpen felt full even if it wasn’t always terribly good.  There’s a lot of question marks this year.  Guys out there need to make strides and accept and excel in new roles.  Steven Wright could have been, at the very least, a stabilizing presence.  Barnes or Brasier can’t find the range?  Just have Wright go out there and confuse the shit out of ‘em for a while. 

But it’s not just the state of the Sox bullpen, or this season, that makes this taste so lousy going down.  Steven Wright was supposed to be the Next Knuckler.  The Next Knuckler to continue the long line of Knucklers that somehow began with Phil and Joe Niekro even though they never played for the Sox.  The Next Knuckler in an actually not-so-long-line of Knucklers that really began with scrap-heap wonder Tim Wakefield in 1995.  The Tim Wakefield who studied at the Niekro brothers’ knees, learning all the secrets of ancient Knucklelore, from the really slow Knuckler to the slightly faster than really slow Knuckler.  The Tim Wakefield who baffled the A’s on May 30, 1995, giving up only two hits over 7 and a third, and capturing my undivided attention ever since.   The Tim Wakefield that went frickin’ 14 and frickin’ two over the first half of that season, and who I was so obsessed with that year, I actually thought Weezer referenced him in My Name is Jonas when they sang they had a “box full” of his toys (it’s “WePeel,” not Wakefield). 

That I thought that a band based in southern California referenced an obscure Red Sox knuckleballer’s miraculous season in a song clearly recorded before that miraculous season began serves not only to underscore the depths of my obsession with Wakefield, but also what a revelation that season actually was.  Here was a guy who was throwing a pitch that, if things had broken a little differently, that I could’ve thrown in the majors.  It wasn’t thrown that hard.  You (obviously) didn’t need to be some sort of athletic paragon to throw it.  Its charm was in its gift for tantalization, deception.  You can’t hit deceit.  Unless you’re Jim Thome and it’s the playoffs.  Or this other guy (shudder). 

Steven Wright was supposed to be a part of that.  And, starting in 2016, really, he was.  He threw harder than Wakefield did, was more of a pitcher than just a Knuckler.  Okay, a little harder.  And he was going to eat innings, my God, the innings this man was going to eat.  Then Farrell decided to have him pinch run (in the midst of an all-star year, no less) and he goes out with a shoulder.  Then it’s a knee.  Then it’s domestic issues.  Then it’s the knee again.  Now this.  Jeez-laweez, enough already.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the long line of Sox Knucklers wasn’t very long at all.

I hope Wright is telling the truth when he says he doesn’t know how the foreign substance got into his body, and I hope he is, as he says, going to use the time to get even healthier in order to help the club upon his return.  But he can’t pitch in the postseason, and by the time he comes back, he’s not exactly going to have the luxury of time to be able to play himself back into form.  If the club needs another arm, it’s hard to see how Dombrowski doesn’t go out and get one at some point before July.  And then where does Wright fit in?  It’s not clear.  It could very well be that this is yet another lost season for him in what is fast beginning to look like a lost career.  A man (and a knuckler) can hope, I suppose.  There’s always 2020. 

Jenrry Mejia Will Close 1,000 Games This Year – Or Not

On Thursday, February 28th, at approximately 4:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, relief pitcher and former closer Jenrry Mejia, late of the New York Mets, three PED suspensions, and the largesse of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, strode to the mound at Jetblue Park in Fort Meyers, FL. 

Over the course of approximately five minutes and at least nine pitches, Mejia struck out each of Chuck Taylor, Tres Barrera, and Brandon Snyder in succession, and, upon so doing, ended the game in which the Boston Red Sox proved victorious, 13-5.  At least some of the 9,568 individuals rumored to be in attendance at this event are assumed to have been pleased by these developments.  As of this writing, this remains Mejia’s sole outing of Spring Training. 

It may interest you to note that, during this competitive outing, relief pitcher and former closer Jenrry Mejia, late of the New York Mets, three PED suspensions, and the largesse of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, wore a uniform veritably emblazoned with the number 58, a number that is, incidentally, both the record for most points ever given up by the Celtics in the fourth quarter (on October 20, 1972 against the Buffalo Braves) and the atomic number of cerium, the significance of the confluence of which I needn’t comment upon here. 

Though encouraging, it must be stated that Mejia’s performance should be placed in its proper context, and that great pains should be taken not to overemphasize its importance.  Thus, for example, I am not saying that Mejia will save as many games this season as every other Major League team saved in all of 2018, or that, based on his brilliance, which will shine like the sun (the sun, my children) other teams will call him in to close their games, and that, as a result, and more than once, he will be pressed into pitching against himself, on which occasions he will garner not one but two saves and both will be Perfect for they are of the Mejia. I’m not saying that.

I am also not saying that teams and fans alike will come to revere him, in a scant, four months’ time, as a minor deity, and then, inexplicably (but understandably) as a major deity, or that whole cities will collapse and whole governments will be led on a road to perdition into wrack, ruin, and penury by their failures to recognize Him as the One True Closer.  I’m not saying that.

I am also not saying that the time will come when legions of his followers, acolytes, and adherents will bear him on their backs to the very gates of Oslo, where they will demand that every Nobel Prize from the first day they were presented until now, from that day to this, be melted down and fashioned into a likeness so awesome and bright and fearsome that all those who look upon it for millennia to come will Know at one Glance that they should give thanks for they are gazing upon an abyss containing an infiniteness that is at once ineffable and terrible and complete beyond their strangest and most decadent imaginings.

I’m not saying any of that.

What I am saying is simply this: Jenrry Mejia might have a decent season this year.  Or not.  Probably not. Maybe so, but probably definitely not.


Second chances don’t come around often.  Third, Fourth, and Fifth chances are even rarer.  I still regret leaving the bar to go to that party on October 23, 2004.  To date, I’ve yet to be given a second chance to replay that night.  Much to my chagrin. 

Jenrry Mejia is on his fourth chance?  Or is it five?  Named Mets’ closer in 2014, there was the first 80 game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs to begin the 2015 season, then the second in July of the same year for the same reason.  Then the third, permanent, this time, or so they said then, in February of 2016, until he applied for reinstatement, which Commissioner Rob Manfred granted in February of 2018.  Mejia has had a time of it, admittedly one of his own making, but he’s served his suspensions and is back on the field accordance with Major League Baseball’s drug policy.  The system works, or, at the very least, functions.      

Even so, Mejia has to know how profoundly lucky he is to be getting this chance with Boston, a team coming off a World Series championship, no less, and to his credit, by all accounts, he is.  And I take him at his word when he says that he believes that he could be better with the Red Sox than ever he was with the Mets.  I take it with a barrelfull of salt packed in a crate filled with even saltier salt, but I’ll take it.  Hell, he’s never lied to me before – I’ve never even met the guy. 

But any hype or hope surrounding Mejia, or any of the cavalcade of arms that surround Spring Training this year, for that matter, must be understood through the lens of Boston’s unwillingness to spend money on a name reliever this past offseason.  This is not to say that the bullpen is atrocious – they pitched to a 3.72 ERA last year, good for ninth in the league – it’s simply that this is the same bullpen that, even with the addition of Ryan Brasier (who, it must be said, put up Larry Andersen down-the-stretch in 1990 type numbers in limited time) STILL needed to impress each and every starter into bullpen service to build a rickety workable bridge to Kimbrel during the entirety of last year’s magical postseason run to the title.  And that was WITH Kimbrel, a closer whom, despite his obvious faults, most would agree looks to be headed for Cooperstown.

Yes, Boston was a juggernaut last year that rollicked through the league to a team-record 108 wins, but the bullpen was clearly the weakest link, and it wasn’t close.  And with the team spending SO much money in 2019 to field the team in the first place, what’s a little more to try for two in a row, or, dare I say it, try and grasp the beginnings of a dynasty?  27-9 is quite a gap, and it isn’t going to close itself.

I think it’s great that Mejia struck out the side on the 28th in his Spring Training debut.  I also think he had a not-so-terrible-at-all performance with Toros Del Este last winter.  I think there could be something left in the tank that allows Mejia to make some impact with the big club come April, or May, or whenever, or if, the club chooses to use him.

Or not.  He might have lost too much velocity to be effective.  His command might desert him completely.  He might not have the stamina to make it through the season.  Whatever happens, however the bullpen functions as a unit and whatever its larger flaws happen to be, these flaws were baked into the design by Boston’s unwillingness to open their wallets for one of the winter’s top-of-the-line relief options, or, depending how you look at it, their willingness to stand pat and trust the guys they have to do the job.

I vacillate between camps – one day I’m certain that the club knows precisely what it’s doing, and the next, I’m equally certain they’ve made a grievous miscalculation.  The only sure thing is that time will tell, and that I’ll be watching (and, maybe, cursing) when it does.