This week’s questions: Bobby’s Sox, and Bernie Williams’ case for the Hall

Is Bobby Valentine the right choice to be the Red Sox’s manager?

Yes . . . if Gene LaMont was the alternative. LaMont will be 65 by opening day and hasn’t managed in the major leagues in 11 years — 16 if you don’t count his last job with the Pirates.

We’re just going to assume John McNamara wasn’t considered because he overslept and missed his interview.

Truth is, it matters far less who manages the Red Sox than who plays for them. Much has been made over the Red Sox’s dysfunctional clubhouse — and if Valentine can make it a room with more whistling than griping, good for him — but John Lackey hindered the team far more on days he was on the field than eating chicken and drinking beer off of it.

If the clubhouse was such a calamity, why wasn’t anything reported until after the season? Because like the difference between genius and madness, it’s a thin line between winning and losing.

If the Red Sox won one more game last year, would we be extolling their ability to detach themselves from pressure? If Dave Roberts was a split second later reaching second base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, would that team’s antics and idiocy have been proof of a lackadaisical attitude?

It’s hard to blame the Red Sox for retreating to the clubhouse. For one thing, who wanted to watch Lackey pitch? For another, a whole lot of players like watching the game far less than playing it — and the latter primarily because of their compensation.

Think Bruce Springsteen wants to hear someone else play Born To Run? If he’s not playing it, he’s probably not watching it. Baseball players have seen plenty of games; they’re as excited to watch them through the endless summer as a viewer who’s seen Shawshank Redemption countless times is to see it on TNT again.

Perhaps it’s not even that some players find the game boring; it’s that chicken, beer and X-boxes are more stimulating.

All of this is only to suggest that hiring Valentine might have an impact only as a diversion. But there are far bigger issues for the Red Sox: who closes, who starts, who keeps Kevin Youkilis healthy into September. It’s not who writes the names into the lineup card which matters most, but whose names are written.

Speaking of the Red Sox’s closer, is there any good that could come from Daniel Bard doing so?

Yes. He’ll stop losing games in the eighth inning.

Bard mostly avoids infamy for his part in last September’s collapse, and that’s an oversight. He lost four games in September, and blew a save in a fifth; his ERA for the month was 10.64; he somehow gave up seven runs on just two hits in two innings in two games vs. the Jays; he lost them both.

He was horrid. And with Jonathan Papelbon gone, Bard gets a promotion?

Yes, and that might not be a bad thing. For his three-year career, Bard’s numbers have been comparable to the departed closer’s: he has a lower career batting average against (.190 to .204) and a slightly higher career OPS against (.582 to .574).

In 2010 Bard was by far the better pitcher; from 2012-2014, he’ll certainly be cheaper. There’s no reason September should linger for Bard — if it did, the Sox would have problems even if Bard wasn’t the closer.

Why did the Angels deal for catcher Chris Iannetta?

Because they wanted a catcher who can get on base and hit for power.

Of course, it would have been simpler to keep Mike Napoli, because anything Iannetta can do, Napoli can do better. Far better. Napoli’s career OPS is 86 points higher, and that’s without the benefit of Coors Field.

The Angels traded 21-year-old pitcher Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta, which may not be as high a price as it seems. So far Chatwood’s career has mirrored Sean O’Sullivan’s: in the majors at age 21, high walk rate, low strikeout rate and even less success. The Angels got Alberto Callaspo from the pitching-poor Royals for O’Sullivan, and the Royals are still pitching poor.

But in the space of two offseasons, the Angels have Iannetta and no Napoli, Vernon Wells and no Chatwood.

That’s not progress.

How would your 2012 Hall of Fame ballot look?

A lot like last year’s. Yes to Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, reluctant nos to Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell, and an emphatic no on Jack Morris.

The only new name worthy of consideration is Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, who is closer than you might think. Nothing in Williams’ career numbers appears in neon — 287 home runs, 2,336 hits, 147 steals –but Williams’ eight-year period from 1995-2002 was decidedly Hall worthy.

In that stretch, Williams batted .300 eight straight years and produced an OPS above .900 in seven of them. His on-base percentage topped .390 every one of those years, his slugging percentage topped .500 six times, he won four Gold Gloves and the Yankees won four World Series. No coincidence.

Williams never finished higher than seventh in the MVP voting, and cracked the top 10 only twice. Of course, that’s more commentary on the voters than Williams.

His record compares favorably to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett — and, yes, Dale Murphy fans, Bernie is ahead of Murphy on the center field Hall of Fame depth chart. Admission to the Hall shouldn’t be based on the weakest link, which is part of Williams’ case, and Williams’ level dropped precipitously after 2002.

He may not be a Hall of Famer. But like Kevin Brown last year, he’ll get far fewer votes than he should.

What’s the best outcome of the Cubs signing David DeJesus?

That Starlin Castro won’t bat leadoff anymore. We hope.

Castro has walked 64 times in 1,221 career plate appearances, or once every 20 times. Of course, while DeJesus is better, everyone this side of Reed Johnson is. DeJesus may walk once every 12 plate appearances, but his career batting average is 20 points less than Castro’s and his career on-base percentage is 13 points higher — although without the benefit of Wrigley.

DeJesus was wretched last year — .240 average, .323 on-base — in his only season in Oakland after his first seven in Kansas City, but so was Johnny Damon — .256 average, .324 on-base — in his only season in Oakland after the first six in Kansas City.

DeJesus is no Damon, although the Cubs can only hope his career continues to track Damon’s. DeJesus did hit .318 in 2010 and .307 in 2008 and more than .290 in four seasons, and his 46 walks in a down 2011 would have tied him for second on the Cubs. And at $5 million per year for two, he’s inexpensive.

Of course, if the Cubs wanted a left-handed-hitting outfielder who could get on base, they could have kept Kosuke Fukodome. The previous regime didn’t appreciate the former, which is one of the reasons they’re not in charge. And for Cubs fans, that’s a good thing, whether DeJesus is or not.

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One Response to This week’s questions: Bobby’s Sox, and Bernie Williams’ case for the Hall

  1. Jeff Navin says:

    If Bernie Williams doesn’t make the Baseball Hall of Fame sometime in the future, he certainly will make some sort of music hall of fame in the next 20 years.

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