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Friday, June 16, 2006

I Did It! I Put Riske's Name In A Pun-Free Headline!    

David Riske just got traded for a lefty reliever, Javier Lopez. My original mission was to speak my concerns on the trade without making a pun (so far, so good) but this post has expanded into a deeper inquisition into the bullpen dynamic. While I'm sure Coltrane's meditation on his relationship with God, A Love Supreme, is more spiritually meaningful than bullpen talk, I've drawn a comparison nonetheless. Enjoy.

Acknowledgement

I'm scratching my head a little about Riske being shown the door so soon, but it's probably more like he was the only guy left with trade value (read: he hasn't pitched enough to prove himself). And even though the trade may not be even in terms of talent, or bullpen innings, the trade does help the bullpen configuration, in that they seem to have a situational lefty, and one fewer guy fighting for those 6th/7th inning appearances. The best thing you can do for a reliever is giving him a defined role, so this is a step towards clearing things up beyond Jon Papelbon, Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin.

Furthermore, it looks like Theo Epstein is ready to hand the reins over to kids. If Theo didn't have faith in Manny Delcarmen, Jermaine Van Buren and Craig Hansen, he wouldn't leave Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez out there without a game plan. Perhaps knowing that we have no option but to go young will give Tito the message that it's time to abandon the old until they prove they can pull their weight.

Resolution

So, what should the pen look like now? Most of the things that could go wrong with this bullpen (old setup guys sucking, Foulke not being healthy, Hansen/Delcarmen not being ready) did go wrong. Based on what we've seen so far from the "depth" guys (JVB's not ready, Manny Delcarmen is, Craig Hansen's begging for a job) here's how my bullpen would look:

CL: Paps
SU: Timmah
SU: Keith Foulke (DL)
LH: Javier Lopez
RP: Rudy Seanez
RP: Manny Delcarmen
RP: Craig Hansen (AAA)

I like the seven-man pen right now, given that a shorter positional bench means a) Tito has fewer stiffs to put into the game for no reason, b) no righty platoon partner for Trot Nixon, and c) J.T. Snow's boot-to-ass departure upon Wily Mo Pena's return. All of that is OK with me.

I think we're fine with Timlin/Foulke on 8th-inning duty. Foulke has been pitching hurt, for which I am grateful, so I don't see his recent struggles as an indication that he cannot do the job. Poor bastard put a fork in his own back for our sins. I just hope his tendinitis actually goes away... tendinitis tends to not go away, at least not without cortisone. I don't want Foulkie to do that to himself too; he's done enough already. Timlin is a non-issue... the guy's incredible.

Notably absent, even from a seven-man pen, is The Shitty Fruitbat, Julian Tavarez. I'm a fan of giving relievers a few months to get into shape (see Seanez' recent performance) but this guy sucks. He's been on and off, and hasn't really pitched that badly of late by numbers, but he just isn't capable of doing the job being asked of him. His "experience" in tight games consists of exploring new ways to make a lead disappear. He hasn't given us any reason to think the whole "gutless choke-artist" thing won't come back to haunt us later in the year (see Tuesday night's grand slam). We should just eat his contract now, but not as a DFA... we need to trade him to the NL for absolutely nothing, and pay his salary to go there. We're paying him anyway, so we might as well keep him from going to New York.

The trio of Seanez/Delcarmen/Hansen for the 6th and 7th innings will be quite sufficient. Seanez' recent revival (took him long enough!) gives us hope that he will be useful. But if any of those three gets hot they are fully capable of 8th inning duties if need be. That's crucial, because we cannot expect a sub-2.00 ERA from the 40-year old Timmahhhhhhh for an entire season... he'll need to be spelled. The one downside is that the kids get fewer innings. But, in theory, they'll be getting major-league tutelage from Al "Hire Me Once, Shame On Me, Hire Me Twice..." Nipper while they ride the pine.

Pursuance

Ahhhh, but extra time with Nip might not be such a great idea. Let's take a look at the work ol' Nip has done for the Sox this season:

Good:
* Curt Schilling is himself again. Not Cy-caliber, but exactly what you'd expect from a 39-yo ace with planet-sized testicles
* Mike Timlin, too, is his usual dominant self
* Jonathan Papelbon has the ROY locked up, and actually may be worthy of Cy Young consideration if this crap continues

Bad:
* Josh Beckett's ERA is above 5.00, and he's given up as many homers in two months as he did all of last season
* Matt Clement has had two good starts out of, like, ten, and has now dropped into "Hey I Was Actually Injured!" mode
* Tim Wakefield has struggled more than usual, even with Dougie "Goin' Deep Tonight" Mirabelli behind the plate
* David Wells' pitching was as awful as his stomach is fat
* Wells' replacements (DiNardo, Pauley, Lester) have all been just as bad, if not worse. (No mercy for the kids! Booooo.)
* Everyone else in the 'pen has been 90% atrocious and 10% passable.

If this is yeoman's work in the hip-replacing absence of Dave Wallace, then Nip's the shittiest yeoman in the history of Western civilization. Each pitcher on that second list is pitching significantly worse than he was in 2005, while Nip's list of "accomplishments" consists of not screwing up three of his best pitchers. Meanwhile, his highest-profile project (Beckett) is the most screwed-up of all of them. Nice work.

Nip's performance reminds of the Chris Rock joke about people who brag about stuff they're supposed to do. How someone will proclaim, "well, I take care of my kids," like it's some big achievement. And Rock yells, "you're SUPPOSED to take care of your kids, ya dumb mothafuckah!!!!!" Well, Nip is the guy who takes care of his kids. It just makes you wonder what, precisely, in the hell Nip is doing. Not that you can fire a guy after two months, but it's clear to me that the guy's not effective.

Psalm

Nothing's changed since last October: the kids will dictate whether this pitching staff survives. But what's different is that it doesn't seem like as much of a stretch. Papelbon. Hansen. Delcarmen. Jon Lester. They're all here. Even David Pauley threw his hat in the ring. Lenny DiNardo could get his act together after a few months in Pawtucket. Who knows. But there's good reason for optimism.

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