Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What Can You Do?

I've put off writing something about the whole Millar/Olerud/Francona fiasco-in-the-making, but now that I'm forced to side with Dan Shaughnessy, I might as well discuss it. It's really no secret that I, along with every other Red Sox fan I know, think Millar stinks (honestly, he's at best a decent double A platoon player). But, because of Tito Francona's undying loyalty to Millar for his solid second half of the 2004 season, it looks like he'll be in the lineup on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. Whatever.

I'm not sure what Millar can now do to get himself permanently seated next to Tito on the bench. I mean, he can't play much worse -- and I'm not even talking about his abysmal start at the plate. As bad as he's been as a batter, multiply that by 10 to get an idea of how he's doing in the field. The play that, for me, exemplifies his ineptitude was during the Yankees game last Sunday. In the middle innings after David Wells had settled down and started making good pitches, Jeter hits a dribbler back to the mound. Wells fielded it, turned, and threw high and to the left of first base as he tried to get Jeter. (Inexplicably for anyone else, but quite explicably in this instance) Millar came off the bag to catch Wells' errant throw even though he could have (or any other first basemen could have), through good footwork, made the play. After watching a couple of replays, it became quite clear why Millar was pulled off the bag -- he had the wrong foot on first base. As he set up to take the throw from Wells, he stretched with his right foot while leaving his left foot on the bag. Because the throw was to the right field side of the bag and a little high, Millar had to reach across his body because he had already stepped towards Wells before he threw the ball. Consequently (and not surprisingly), Millar came off the bag to make the play, but Jeter was safe. E-1.

In all seriousness, when I saw this play, I was speechless. This is the type of mistakes you seen in little league. And I'm not exaggerating. You don't see these kind of mistakes in high school or college by guys who play first base on a regular basis. It's just mind-boggling.

I've said about Bellhorn that I don't care if he ever gets another hit (even though he got two big ones last night), as long as he makes plays in the field. And that's what he's done. So I'm fine with that. After much deliberation and thought, I can't find one redeeming quality about Millar being in the lineup everyday, three times a week, or even once a month. If he's such a great clubhouse guy, why not make him mascot. Or if he actually want to be on the field during games, let him sit down one of the foul lines and chase foul balls (he can even wear his uniform). I just don't get it.

Luckily, Tito doesn't let stuff like this cloud his judgment. He'll keep trotting Millar out there, and Millar, not wanting to disappoint, will continue to play like he's half in the bag. Here's what Francona said:

"I don't believe just because a guy got a couple of hits that you sit your first baseman down," said the manager. "This is a long haul and sometimes it takes some patience for it to work. I can't forget what Millar has done for us and how important he is to our ball club. What he did for us in the second half was pretty damn good."
Um, OK. What about if your first basemen is hitting in the .230s, has a worse fielding percentage than the third basemen and is best known for his ability to hit into double-plays to kill rallies? For the life of me, I can't figure out what Millar brings to the table. Yes he hit .336 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs during the last two months of 2004, but at what point should that not matter in 2005?

I don't know a lot, but I'd be surprised to see any team throw Millar an inside fastball for the rest of his career. That's the pitch he hits hard -- to left field. Any other pitch on the outside part of the plate is hit weakly to 2nd or short for an out (unless it's a weak pop-up to centerfield, of course). So despite the fact that Millar hit .336 in August and September, opponents have apparently made adjustments to how they're going to pitch him. Still, Millar has a solid explanation as to why he should be in there on a regular basis, as well as some thoughts on the Red Sox trading for Mientkiewicz last season:

"Some players get off to a rough start," said Millar, sounding unusually serious and concerned about his plight. "I wish I was a fast starter. But you look around at Mike Lowell and Eric Chavez and Vernon Wells. They're all starting slow. Do you give up on those players? If there's no track record, maybe you would."

OK, Kev. Why should Tito stick with you?

"Because we're like a machine in here and practically everybody in here make us the same machine that's been here since 2003 and the same machine that won the World Series. We're in May, not September. We're just seven weeks into the season."

But what about Olerud?

"I've been a fan of John Olerud since college," said Millar. "I wasn't going to sit behind Doug Mientkiewicz. I'll sit behind John Olerud. There's a track record there. Last year, I didn't think that [Mientkiewicz] was an upgrade."
Regarding the first rhetorical question Millar asks, I'll answer it. No, you don't give up on Lowell, Chavez or Wells because, well, they're good. They may be struggling at the plate, but they're all really good defensively. So even if they struggle at the plate, they still make contributions in the field, something Millar, um, struggles with. And I won't even pretend to understand the whole, "we're a machine, we've been a machine since 2003. I should start" silliness. Using that logic, let's dust the moth balls off Grady Little and get him back in a uniform too. And now for the most egregious comment: "I didn't think that Mientkiewicz was an upgrade." Well that makes one of us ... anywhere on the planet Earth. To be fair, Mientkiewicz couldn't hit while Millar could during the second half of 2004. But Mientkiewicz had also won a gold glove and was an important defensive player on the Sox last season. This year, Millar can't hit and he still can't field, so it's actually kind of funny to read his comments on Mientkiewicz.

Luckily, Millar doesn't mind sitting behind Olerud. Now if someone would just tell Tito as much.