BY KEVIN KERNAN
This is my favorite time of the MLB season.
This is Truth Serum Time.
The Nerds can no longer lie to us about their teams and how good their teams are going to be, the answer is in the standings. The answer is in the field of play. The answer is in the team’s ERA and batting average and RISP and mindless plays.
I like to call this the Bill Parcells time of the MLB schedule: “You are what your record says you are.’’
Covering Parcells back in the day with the New York Giants – in New Jersey – was fun so I actually heard those words uttered right from his mouth in the bowels of wonderful, old Giants Stadium when a no-name assistant coach would happily discuss any intricacies of the NFL game with inquiring writers.
That assistant coach was Bill Belichick.
This was long before “We’re on to Cincinnati.’’
Parcells is a baseball fan, as is Belichick, and I still run into Parcells during spring training in Jupiter, Fla. Those words: “You are what your record says you are’’ mean so much to me and they should mean so much to befuddled MLB owners, who believe almost anything their Ivy League educated GMs tell them.
You are what your record says you are, and that Truth Serum is the subject of today’s Baseball or Bust.
You are what your record says you are, and Chris Sale manages to get hurt in the strangest of ways.
Let’s start with the Boston Red Sox, who happen to be in last place in the AL East. There are many reasons for Boston’s collapse, but the biggest is the collapse of the pitching staff. The Red Sox are great at putting all that spin out there about winning four World Series since 2004, over that same time span the Yankees have won one, so that’s that. Unless the Red Sox fix their pitching it’s going to be a long time before the Red Sox again win a World Series and Chaim Bloom – who is on his way to his second last-place finish in three seasons with the Red Sox – has his work cut out for him.
Bloom will be back as Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told my friend Ken Rosenthal earlier in the week. Alex Cora too. There was never any doubt Cora, who is signed for two more years, would return. He can do a lot for the Red Sox. Brother Joey will be the only Cora, though – with the Mets – in the postseason come October, and you can be sure Alex, a former Met, will be cheering the Mets on; but this Red Sox mess falls on Chaim Bloom.
As of this writing the Red Sox are 25th in ERA with a 4.54 mark. But what really tells the story is the teams keeping company with Boston – because the Pirates are 26th at 4.70, then come the Royals at 4.74, the Reds at 5.01, the Rockies at 5.06 and last and least, the Nationals at 5.15.
The Big Market, Pink Hat Red Sox are right in there with the likes of the small market Pirates and Royals, but that is really no excuse either to stink. Figure it out.
If you really want to get a true number – and we are into true numbers because we know how the Nerds love to throw false numbers our way to confuse everyone – like actually thinking the Pirates are making progress, here is a true number.
Chaim Bloom, right, Chief Baseball Officer for the Boston Red Sox talking to Rey Fuentes, coordinator of their mental skills program before the Boston Red Sox play the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Here is some Truth Serum for Red Sox Nation.
Since June 27th and a trip north of the border to welcoming Canada, right, the Red Sox posted the absolute worst ERA in all of baseball with an astounding 5.84 ERA. Yes, you’ve read that right, 5.84. I wonder what my friend Dan Shaughnessy has to say about that, nearly a 6.00 ERA from the Red Sox arms since the end of June.
Next come the Rockies who are staggering along at a 5.22 ERA since June 27th. The Nationals are also in the over-5.00 Club with a 5.13 mark since then, followed by those progressive Pirates at 4.86 and then the Reds – let ‘em eat cake – with a 4.56 ERA.
Those numbers are courtesy of the good people at Elias Sports Bureau, people who have been tossing me numbers for about six decades so it’s not like I just woke up one morning and started yelling at clouds saying: Shove your analytics.
I like numbers, Truth Serum numbers.
So add it all up and the Red Sox are losers because their pitching is so bad. Casey Stengel could not win with this pitching. Of course it is not only Chaim Bloom who is at fault here, he wasn’t the one who signed Chris Sale to a contract that has not paid off in practically any way, but Bloom is supposed to be so smart he can see into the future.
That’s the true beauty of analytics. The Future is predicted by The Past. Got that?
So, even though the pitcher is pumping 98-mph fastballs over the heart of the plate, the hitter, who in the past was a pull hitter, there is no way he is going to shoot the ball to the opposite field. And most hitters oblige by playing dumb. Anyway, even without the benefit of analytics I have a word of warning for the Red Sox. When Sale heals the broken bones from his latest injuries, stop with the nonsense of counting on him as a starting pitcher. Put him in the bullpen, let him put pedal to the metal and get as many outings and innings out of him as you can, count on less innings than starting pitcher innings so you are already ahead of the game.
Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox leaves the field with a dislocated pinky finger after getting hit by a line drive from Aaron Hicks of the New York Yankees in the first inning at Yankee Stadium on July 17, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
You are what your record says you are, and Chris Sale manages to get hurt in the strangest of ways.
The Red Sox need to load up on the pitching front. I was impressed with young Brayan Bello the other night but you know how that goes, don’t expect too much. The Red Sox will have to get some depth from the farm and Red Sox officials are excited about the upper-level layer of good starters. Keep ‘em coming and sign new ones.
Act like a big market team, not like the Rays, where Bloom came from before being anointed by John Henry and Tom Werner as the Red Sox salvation. The Red Sox also have to get veteran leadership from players and that was missing this year. Trevor Story was injured and never got that going. They clearly are a team with a leadership gap and Xander Bogaerts was distracted by his opt-out situation. That needs to be cleaned up immediately.
Remember, this was a team that thought it was a good idea to let Mookie Betts walk so ownership, and these are ownership decisions, is out of touch with reality.
As Parcells might say, “They need to buy better groceries.’’
Since the Red Sox are such an analytical group it makes sense that they are living on the four World Championships since 2004 (before that there was a bit of a gap in titles) and not understanding what it takes to win now.
They can only hope the Yankees continue to find a way to not sign Aaron Judge long term. Judge is only getting better and the Yankees can’t possibly be as dumb as the Red Sox who lost Betts to a trade with the Dodgers. Imagine if Judge walks away as a free agent to the Dodgers.
It’s not as crazy as you think. He would get incredible amounts of money and incredible lineup protection batting in the three spot for the Dodgers in his home state of California. Again, we have to see if the Yankees are that dumb but to paraphrase Bill Parcells in regards to the Yankees: You are what Aaron Judge says you are. At last count the 51 home runs have made the Yankees the Yankees. They would be lost without Judge.
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 30, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
And here is another bit of Truth Serum for the Yankees.
Stop batting Judge second. He needs to bat third like he did Tuesday night against the Angels when he bashed his 51st home run, only 10 back of Yankee great Roger Maris from 61 in’61. The best way for Judge to see pitches now and not be pitched around is getting men on base in front of him and that has always been one of the great strengths of batting third.
In a good lineup, men are on base when you get up so they can’t just walk you.
It’s amazing to me that it took so long for the Yankees to figure this out, but they have been living in the analytics driven lineup world of wanting to get that No. 2 hitter more at-bats. Counting on No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to get on base is not an ideal plan so keep Judge batting third and hope players like Andrew Benintendi as a No. 2 hitter can reach base and get something going.
More Truth Serum: The Mets bullpen has a lot of holes, they really need another lefty out there, but imagine the state of that bullpen if the Mets had not hired bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who came over from the Red Sox, of all places. In the Red Sox 2018 World Series victory their relief pitchers posted a 1.40 ERA in the Series. The next season the Red Sox relievers led the majors with a 10.5 SO/9.0 IP. Before the Red Sox, Bjornson served as Houston’s bullpen coach when they won the World Series in 2017.
I’ve been told by those in the know that he is a difference maker and certainly for the electric Edwin Diaz, who could win the NL Cy Young award, this was a great addition for the Mets. But that’s what we do here at BallNine, we not only tell you about the stars but the names you may not know much about, the people like bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, people who are incredibly respected within the baseball world by real baseball people, not just number throwers.
Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fields a fly ball during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on August 31, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
A couple points ‘bout the 49-81 Pirates for I am not ready to write a full column on them as of yet, they certainly don’t deserve it.
For all his talents and the shiny objects like hitting the hardest ball in the Statcast Era (man I dislike saying the Statcast Era), shortstop Oneil Cruz has 89 Ks in 234 plate appearances, a 38 percent strikeout rate.
“He really can’t handle a breaking ball,’’ one scout told BallNine.
To get where he wants to get and where the Pirates have been promising for years where they will someday be, Cruz has to work on this weakness. With his speed if he just puts the ball in play great things will happen – so that is why I hope he doesn’t fall in love with exit velo, just more Truth Serum from Baseball or Bust.
John Perrotto, a writer I respect who has been covering the Pittsburgh scene for decades wrote this past week after a 14-2 loss to the Braves: “The Pirates stink again and their latest of a never-ending string of rebuilding plans is taking a step back.’’
What I find really interesting from talking to people around MLB is that the Pirates, in their latest housecleaning, didn’t fire any Nerds. The analytics team that put this team in a hole was kept intact I’ve been told, meanwhile competent coaches and player development people were axed.
It’s like Jack McKeon has been telling me for years, and remember he won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003 but also has been fired a number of times as a manager, “How come no analytic people ever get fired?’’
Good point. What numbers hold the Nerds accountable?
There needs to be a serious dose of Truth Serum there. How about keeping it simple and look at the standings and if after a three-year period there is not great progress in an organization, make changes in that department, too. Also look at the number of pitchers who have gone down with serious injuries for as we pointed out at the top: It all starts with pitching.
If anyone has a problem with any of that tell them Bill Parcells sent you: “You are what your record says you are.‘’