Saturday, July 24, 2004

Lucky Loaiza?

Esteban Loaiza has been struggling, so maybe we should ask why.

Well, it’s pretty simple. He’s not striking guys out like he did last year. That wouldn’t be a problem if he weren’t walking guys and giving up a ton of gopher balls.

Here’s some stats from last year, compared to this year and his career numbers.

              K/BB     BB/9    HR     HR/9    ERA
2003      3.70       2.23      17       0.67      2.90
2004      1.85       2.82      19       1.34      4.79
CAR       2.29       2.54     197      1.10      4.60

Given that his K/BB, BB/9 innings and HR/9 rates area all worse than his career rates, Loaiza is pretty lucky to have an ERA under 5 as of this writing. That’s bad news for Sox fans counting on him to be part of a fearsome three at the top of the rotation.

The good news is that baring injury, Loaiza should at least come back down to his career levels – which won’t help his ERA, but should keep it from climbing higher.

It might just be that the cut fastball that helped Loaiza to a monster season last year just isn’t fooling hitters this year. And maybe he’s not getting it over for a strike. If that’s the case, he’ll need another new pitch if he ever hopes to approximate his last – and only – great season.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Trouble in the outfield

Today’s news that Magglio Ordonez will probably miss the rest of the season is pretty devastating, especially coming on the heels of news that Frank Thomas will be out until September at the earliest. Nonetheless, the Sox will have to try to cobble together some hitting out of the right field and DH spots in the lineup. Here are the suspects…

Carl Everett                  .375/.524/.563
Timo Perez                   .256/.307/.354
Willie Harris                 .273/.361/.319
Joe Borchard                .266/.329/.495*
Ross Gload                  .263/.323/.368
Jaime Burke                 .327/.353/.429

*Stats at AAA Charlotte

Lets start with the obvious. Everett can play in right or DH, so one of the spots is his. Only natural since the Sox just traded for him.

It would also be obviously silly to throw Burke in at DH for two reasons. The first is he’s playing a bit over his head after hitting only .213/.274/.279 in just over 100 at-bats at Charlotte this year. No, he’s not that bad, but he’s also not that good. The second is that moving him would create a Sandy Alomar-sized hole at catcher, unless anyone really has any faith in Ben Davis.

Harris could play full time in the outfield, but that would mean a trade-off in the infield. Right now the Sox have the luxury of spotting Juan Uribe at shortstop for Jose Valentin against left-handers, and giving Harris and Joe Crede off at second and third, respectively. With the way Valentin hits lefties, and with a bunch of games left against the Royals (3 left-handed starters) and Tigers (2 lefties), that is no small advantage.

Harris should play every day so the Sox can see if his AAA numbers will ever translate into major-league stats, but for now lets pretend like he’s too valuable in the infield.

Perez hasn’t been very good, and outside of his one good year in 2000, which consisted of only 49 at-bats, has never looked like he has the potential to be much more than a fifth outfielder.

It would be nice to say something like “Gload can murder left-handed pitching” or “Gload can hit if he gets regular playing time,” but neither of those statements can be proven. In only nine plate appearances against lefties this year, he has done well, but that defies his usually miserable split against southpaws. And he probably can’t play better with regular playing time.

Borchard has looked pretty overmatched in his short stay in the majors, but has performed OK in the minors. If he’s being more patient at the plate, he could help the lineup. Or he could crash and burn when exposed to real live MLB pitching.

So what did this exercise teach us? Not much, other than the Sox don’t really have a perfect solution on their roster. How about an imperfect solution, though?

Against right-handers, Harris can play center and Rowand can move over to right. It would mean fewer days off for everyone (unless Kelly Dransfeldt gets another call), but it would do two things: It would put the most potent bats in the lineup, and those players have the most potential to be good, full-time players.

But there’s still the problem against lefties. Perez has been fair against right-handers (.276/.318/.381) by his standards at least, but that doesn’t help against lefties when Valentin is riding the pine. Same with Burke’s splits. Gload has been good against lefties, but that looks like a sample-size fluke.

The Sox just might want to give Joe Borchard another call. He doesn’t have big platoon splits, and having him try to get in a groove against the AL Central’s craptastic soft-tossing left-handers (Brian Anderson, etc.) might be the best way to bring him along as a player.