Tag: Dan Wheeler

Boston Red Sox on Fire, but Can They Get Even Better?

The Boston Red Sox pounded the Chicago Cubs into submission, 15-5, yesterday to win their seventh straight ball game. The Sox have now won 10 of 12, 13 of 18 and 22 of their last 32. They have the best record in baseball since April 16 and, more importantly, they sit just a half game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East.

How did this happen?

It was just two weeks ago that Red Sox Nation was ready to call it a year and go back to rooting for the Celtics and Bruins in the playoffs. But much has happened in those two short weeks, including Rajon Rondo almost single-handedly beating the Miami Heat with one arm (try getting your kids to believe that one in about 20 years).

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have come together as a team and started playing like the club that everyone and their uncle picked to win the World Series.

The good news? They’re going to get even better.


Carl Crawford

Much of the blame for Boston’s poor start was placed squarely on the shoulders of the $142 million man, otherwise known as Carl Crawford. In reality, at least half the lineup was struggling. The Red Sox hit just .243 as a team in April and Crawford finished the brutal month hitting .155.

Since then, however, the star outfielder has really turned it on. He opened May with an 11-game hitting streak and has his batting average up to .212. He’s hitting .294 so far in May and has a couple of nice game-winning hits on his resume.

He’s still stuck in the eight spot in the lineup and will remain there until further notice, but this is still a perennial All-Star who’s only now beginning to play like one.

Crawford’s worst season in his 10-year major league career was in 2008, when he missed over 50 games and finished with a .273/.319/.400 line. He’s currently at .212/.247/.282. Crawford averages 13 home runs and 53 steals over 162 games. Right now he has one and six, respectively. Clearly there’s room for improvement.

It’s only a matter of time before Crawford unleashes a string of multi-hit games and gives the Red Sox offense yet another weapon.


John Lackey/Daisuke Matsuzaka

The Red Sox felt pretty confident with what they were going to get out of the top of their rotation, and the trio of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz has certainly delivered so far this season. But the same can’t be said for the back end of the rotation.

Matsuzaka somehow rolled off two consecutive scoreless starts in mid-April, but the rest of the season has been a disaster. He hasn’t made it past the fifth inning in five of his eight starts and has almost as many walks (23) as strikeouts (26). He’s been so bad that the Red Sox couldn’t wait to get him off the field, putting him on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow. He’s not expected back until July, if ever.

Remarkably, Lackey has been even worse. The big righty has a 8.01 ERA and is getting smacked around like he’s playing T-ball. In 39.1 innings he’s surrendered 53 hits and 18 walks. In other words, an opposing batter has a better chance of reaching base than he does recording an out. Lackey’s crap fest earned him a spot on the disabled list alongside Matsuzaka, with what the Red Sox call a sprained right elbow.

It’s almost inconceivable that the two of them can continue to pitch this poorly, but even if they spend the rest of the season sitting on the bench (a trade is impossible at this point) the Red Sox can still take solace in that they have other options.

There’s the ageless Tim Wakefield, who’s already made two serviceable starts this season. There’s Alfredo Aceves, the former Yankee with starting experience. There’s lefties Rich Hill and Felix Doubront, just waiting for their shot to get back on the mound. There’s even the recently signed Kevin Millwood!

If the Yankees can make it through the first quarter of the season with Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon in their rotation, then odds are the Red Sox can find a competent pitcher somewhere. 



The Bobby Jenks signing has been a disaster. The supposed seventh inning guy has a 9.35 ERA in 11 games and is currently on the DL with a strained right biceps. Dan Wheeler has been even worse with a 11.32 ERA in 11 games, thanks in large part to the four home runs he’s given up (tied for fourth on the team, including starters). Denys Reyes didn’t even make it through a week with the big club, earning his release after just 1.2 awful innings.

But there is hope on the horizon.

The bullpen has been anchored by Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and newcomer Matt Albers, but they’ve gotten positive contributions out of other pitchers. Scott Atchison is back after a strong year in 2010 and he pitched three scoreless innings last night against the Cubs. Ditto for lefty Rich Hill, who has yet to give up a run in 4.2 innings.

The Red Sox also recently acquired Franklin Morales, a lefty reliever who has a 3.86 ERA in 14 innings pitched for the Colorado Rockies. And don’t forget former prospect Michael Bowden, who was lights out in AAA Pawtucket and is now just waiting to get his name called.

It’s going to take some time, but the Red Sox have the resources to build a great bullpen.

This may sound like a collection of if’s, but every team in baseball has question marks. The biggest question for the Red Sox early in the season was could they get out of their slump? The answer, of course, was yes.

Now the question turns to guys like Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks. History suggests that all of these guys will turn it around, but even if they don’t the Red Sox have Plan B already in place.

It’s going to be a fun season.  

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What Will Dan Wheeler’s Role Be With the 2011 Boston Red Sox?

For the Boston Red Sox, this offseason has been quite momentous. They landed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the two best available offensive (and two of the best defensive) players.

But, when you take into account that the Red Sox still had one of the best offensives in baseball last season, and that both Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez—one and two in terms of importance to the Red Sox offensively last season—the additions of Crawford and A-Gon might not have much of a short-term difference in the production the Red Sox see offensively.

Rather, the improvements made in the bullpen—namely the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler—will have the most impact. The Red Sox had the 12th lowest reliever ERA in the American League last season (4.24). While much was made up of Jonathan Papelbon’s struggles to nail down games, it was really the middle of the bullpen that performed the poorest.

Ramon Ramirez, who was lights out in 2009—2.84 ERA in 70 games and 69.2 innings of work—saw his ERA rise to 4.46 in 44 games and 42.1 innings of work last season. He went from being arguably the most consistent facet of the Red Sox ‘pen in 2009 to the least reliable in 2010. He was shipped to the Giants at the trading deadline for a minor leaguer.

Other noticeablely shoddy seasons came from Manny Delcarmen—4.70 ERA in 48 games—and Hidecki Okajima, whose ERA rose to a career high of 4.50. Delcarmen was sent to the Rockies via waivers in August, and Okajima remains a question mark coming into the 2011 season.

So when the Sox added Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to the ‘pen for the 2011 season, they made a drastic improvement on their biggest weakness.

For analysis’ sake, I won’t delve much into Jenks’ value to the team. Long story short, he should help spell Daniel Bard, who appeared in 73 games and 74.2 innings of work. Both statistics were fourth highest among AL relievers.

I want to examine Dan Wheeler, probably the Red Sox who has gotten the least attention, but one who could end up having the most significant short-term impact. Despite the mark of guys like Gonzalez, Crawford and Jenks, Dan Wheeler will be the team’s biggest asset in the middle innings, which is where the Sox struggled the most in 2010.

Let’s start with the basics. For a good portion of his 11-year major league career, Wheeler has been one of the more reliable middle relievers in baseball. From 2004-06, Wheeler posted a 2.49 ERA in 160 games with the Houston Astros. After a rough 2007, which saw an ERA over 5.00 and a midseason trade from Houston to Tampa Bay, Wheeler posted a 3.24 ERA from 2008-10 in 203 appearances for the Rays.

So that being said, how will Dan Wheeler be used as a Red Sox? Certainly, he’ll be the guy who gets the call in the sixth and/or seventh inning. He’ll be the guy called on when a starter exits early, or when the Red Sox need an arm to get one guy out. His value as a middle reliever is already evident.

However, there’s another aspect of Wheeler’s game that I find intriguing. At least last year, Wheeler did exceptionally well in getting left handed batters out. Despite the fact that Wheeler is a right hander, and one with a fairly lackluster career average against left-handed batters (.275 opponent batting average; .833 OPS), Wheeler actually had better numbers last season against lefties than he did against righties. Lefties batted just .154 (as compared to .222 for RHB) with an OBP of .227 (as compared to .287 for RHB).

What accounts for this drastic change? Last season, Wheeler threw his slider 30 percent of the time, and his cutter 15 percent of the time. Both were highs for his career in Tampa Bay. He also threw his fastball just 47.5 percent of the time, a career low with the Rays. As a result, he gave up just three HRs to left-handed batters in 2010; he has been prone to giving up the long fly against lefties during his career.

It seems as if Wheeler made a conscious effort to keep the ball in the park last season and force weak contact. While this may have been the case, Wheeler was the beneficiary of an anemic .103 BABIP (batting average against balls in play) against left-handed batters last time. At the same time, his xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching), was a very high .472 against lefties last year.

Either way, the Red Sox might very well need Wheeler to fill the role of quasi-lefty specialist in 2011. It’s no secret that left-handed bullpen help is the Red Sox’ biggest weakness right now. Guys like Okajima, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill provide depth, albeit uncertainty for the Red Sox as far as left-handed relievers go.

The two left-handed pitchers in the Red Sox system of note are Drake Britton and Felix Doubront. There’s no chance we will see Britton in Boston this season, and the Red Sox project Doubront as a starter. I imagine that they’d prefer he spends his entire season as a starter, whether in the minors or majors, unless absolutely necessary.

Given the bulk of right-handed relief help that the Sox have (Pap, Bard, Jenks, Wheeler, Kyle Weiland and Alex Wilson in the minors), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox make some sort of move to bring in left-handed relief help during the season if none of their options pan out. It’s unlikely they bring in someone with a high profile or pay anything expensive for him, but they could definitely bring in some more arms. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become a rotating door.

Dan is a Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @danhartelBR.

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Boston Red Sox Continue To Revamp Bullpen, Sign Dan Wheeler

The Boston Red Sox really aren’t messing around this offseason. They are crossing all of their T’s and dotting all of their I’s in preparation for 2011 season.

If Boston felt they needed something this offseason, they have gone out and got it. One of the main areas that Boston needed help in this offseason was their bullpen.

Earlier this week, Boston added Bobby Jenks and brought back Andrew Miller and Rich Hill to help improve their pen. Despite those additions, the Red Sox felt they even needed more help.

That’s why on Saturday, they signed RHP Dan Wheeler. Boston signed Wheeler to a one-year, $3 million contract with a $3 million mutual option for 2012. The option for 2012 can vest if Wheeler appears in 65 games in 2011.

I was a little surprised the Red Sox signed the 33-year-old righty because I thought they needed proven lefty in the pen rather than another proven righty. However, the Red Sox in this case are hoping that Wheeler can act like a lefty.

Left-handed batters hit only .154/.227/.436 against Wheeler last season. If he can do that again next season, the Red Sox will have found their pseudo lefty. Though I will say Wheeler’s success against lefties does appear to be an aberration because in the two years prior to last, lefties hit close to .300 off him.

Overall, Wheeler posted a 3.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 8.6 K/9 with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. He also posted 34.6 percent Groundball Percentage in 2010. It was the third year in a row that Wheeler’s Groundball Percentage has improved.

With the acquisitions of Jenks and Wheeler to their bullpen, the Red Sox have turned a weakness into a strength for 2011.

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

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