As the Red Sox returned home Monday from a disappointing 3-3 road trip that saw them sweep a very good team (St. Louis) and drop 3 of 4 to a very not good team (Oakland), I thought it would be appropriate to do a little musing on the state of the team a quarter of the way through the year. The Red Sox are currently sitting at 22-21, 3rd in the AL East and 4 games back from the first place Yankees. This team has struggled to really stack wins together, seemingly hovering around .500 all season long.
Not too much dancing going on in the Red Sox outfield so far this season.
They’re below the American League average in RBIs and SLG, but 2nd in batting average and on base percentage (OBP). They’re dead last in home runs, but top in the league at not striking out. This all combines for a lot of frustrating innings where the Sox manage to put men on, but simply don’t have the power to bring them home.
While it’s been a frustrating 40+ games, there’s no reason to expect this to continue all season. The power hitters in the lineup have begun to wake up, with Mookie Betts going from slugging .439 in April to slugging .539 in May, bringing his current season number up to a team leading .497.
The Red Sox have also seemed to adjust to their lack of power, playing a little more small ball. We saw the team execute their first sacrifice hit of the season on May 10th, and we’ve seen them become more aggressive on the base paths, with Mookie, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi combining to be 11/13 on stolen bases in the month of May.
Benintendi gets some style points for his latest steal of the season.
This is not quite the time for panic to set in yet. They are an over .500 team that has yet to realize their potential, but seems to be making adjustments to how they’re getting men across home plate. That being said, all players are not created equally, and there are certainly some standouts in both directions for the Sox so far this season.
First up, my quarter year Most Valuable pitcher: Closer, Craig Kimbrel.
This one is a pretty easy choice, so far this season Kimbrel has been nothing short of amazing. In 19.2 innings pitched this season he is sporting a .92 ERA with 36(!) strike outs. He hasn’t let a runner score since April 20th, and he hasn’t issued a walk since his 3rd appearance of the season. The Sox are 18-1 in games he’s pitched, with the one loss coming this week in the 3-2 overtime loss in Oakland where Heath Hembree gave up a game winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He has erased any lingering concerns about his effectiveness from last season, and it’s pretty likely his control issues were tied to the injury that landed him on the DL last year.
Kimbrel finishing off his immaculate inning (3 outs while only throwing 9 strikes) against the Brewers, a feat only accomplished by two other Red Sox pitchers, Pedro Martinez (2002) and Clay Buchholz (2012).
This year, we’re getting the lights out shut down pitcher we all expected when Dombrowski traded for him two offseasons ago. He’s currently on pace to exceed his best season (2012 with ATL) in ERA, IP, BB, and almost double his SO totals. The odds are stacked against him in that respect, but that 2012 season was one of the best ever seasons for a reliever so to see Kimbrel with a chance to be EVEN BETTER 5 years later is pretty exciting. Dude is playing the best baseball of his entire career at almost 29 years old and should be a major piece for the Red Sox if he can maintain this kind of play down the stretch.
Honorable Pitching Mentions: Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Robby Scott.
Sale has been more than expected this season. He’s tied his own major league record with 8 straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts. He has a 2.19 ERA in 9 games started with 95 strikeouts, which leads the league by 18 more than second place pitcher Chris Archer. He’s been worth everything the Red Sox traded away to acquire him and then some.
Rodriguez has probably been the second best starting pitcher this season after an offseason where many were saying there was no space for him in the rotation. He has turned in 6 straight quality starts with a 2.61 ERA in those games, and an ERA of 3.10 for the season. The young lefty seems to have greatly benefited from the addition of Sale to the staff, and is poised to become one of the best #3 or 4 guys in all of baseball.
Robby Scott has been the best reliever not named Craig Kimbrel for the Red Sox this season. The young lefty specialist quickly made a name for himself after not allowing an earned run in his first 7 games. Since then his ERA is an MLB best .087 after throwing 10.1 innings in 18 games this season. He is definitely Farrell’s go to LOOGY since we’ve seen Robbie Ross Jr been sent down to Pawtucket for roster management reasons twice and Scott is still up in the bigs. Pretty great for an undrafted guy who was playing independent baseball 5 years ago.
That brings us to my quarter year Least Valuable pitcher: Starter Drew Pomeranz.
So just wrote about how Pomeranz seemed like two entirely different pitchers so far this season, and since then he’s only been one truly awful pitcher. In his 8 starts this season he is averaging 4.2 innings per start. There have been 101 pitchers this season to start 8 games and only 2 other pitchers have a lower average innings per start than Pomeranz. And they’re both averaging 4.1 innings per start, so it’s basically the smallest possible gap between him and the lowest average in the game. The Red Sox are 4-4 in games he’s started this season, but 3 of those wins came in his first 4 stars of the season.
Lately he’s been nothing short of terrible. In his last start in Oakland, he finished the 4th inning at 97(!!) pitches. 97 pitches to get 12 outs. He took every batter he faced up to a full count. And then when John Farrell took him out of the game, he got all up in his manager’s face about being pulled. It’s always good when I pitcher doesn’t want to be taken out of games, but if you just threw almost 100 pitches before the 5th inning, listen to your skipper and sit down. Add on a 4.97 ERA and you’ve got the worst pitcher on the team, and it’s not particularly close right now. I know two weeks ago I said he’s better then watching Clay Buchholz pitch, which is still true, but he’s basically become the 2017 Red Sox version of Buchholz. Not great.
Dishonorable Pitching Mentions: Anyone in the bullpen not named Robbie Scott or Craig Kimbrel.
Okay, it’s not totally fair to say that the entire rest of the bullpen has been awful, but they have been wildly inconsistent. This is a bullpen that is desperately in need of some stability and consistency. With Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith still on the DL, this is a pen that has been operating with two of its top arms unavailable.
Smith was supposed to slot in this season as the new 8th inning setup guy, but with him not available we have had a rotating mess in the 8th inning. Every pitcher in the pen has pitched in the 8th this season (Barnes: 9, Scott:7, Kelly: 6, Hembree: 6, Abad: 6, Kimbrel: 2, Taylor: 1, Ross: 1) and no one has stood out as “the guy”.
Not every guy on that list has been terrible this season, but no one has been great in that role. The overall bullpen numbers are very deceiving because the pen has a combined ERA of 3.13, good for 4th best in the league, but that’s been inflated by Kimbrel and Robbie Scott being so dominant. There is a lot of room for improvement here, as the Sox are expected to get Scott back early this summer and if he can return to pre-injury form and slot into that 8th inning setup role, that should go a long way to stabilizing this pen down the stretch.
Next up, the Most Valuable Position Player: RF Mookie Betts.
After a slow start to the season, it seems like Mookie Betts is well on his way back to playing like the AL MVP he should hopefully be one day. He is currently slashing .282/.357/.497 with 6 stolen bases and a team leading 7 HRs and 28 RBIs. Add on a .977 fielding percentage with 2 defensive assists and 83 putouts, we have ourselves a ballplayer here. Compared to last season, Mookie is showing he’s a slightly different player through 43 games this season than he was in his breakout year.
Through 43 games in 2016 he was slashing .276/.322/.500 with 9 HRs, 8 SBs, and 33 RBIs. His batting average and OBP numbers are up, his slugging percentage is almost exactly the same as last season, despite 2 less home runs. Despite the lower home run numbers, he’s still on pace for a 30 HR/25 SB, 6.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) season, numbers that would almost certainly put him in the MVP conversation again.
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Benintendi & Xander Bogaerts
The young Red Sox corp has been everything we’ve been expecting this season. Before his current 7 game slump (which he looks to be breaking out) Andrew Benintendi was leading the Sox in all offensive stats for a while (Home runs, RBIs, Batting Average, OBP) and is currently slashing .280/.355/.422. He was batting well over .300 before he entered a 6 game hitless slump. He also has 5 home runs and is 5/6 stealing bases, including a game in Oakland where he stole 2nd and 3rd in the same inning. The biggest thing that impresses me about Benintendi is how well he plays out there in LF. He’s sporting almost the same defensive numbers as Mookie is this year, with 2 assists and 85 putouts with a fielding percentage of .978. Basically he’s a left handed clone of Mookie Betts playing the other side of the outfield.
Xander is one of the weirdest, best players in baseball right now. He’s leading the Red Sox in average and OBP, slashing .320/.389/.433 on the season, and while he’s still waiting for that first home run, he’s leading the team with 7 stolen bases without being caught. He has also hit 4 triples already this season, which is interesting because he only hit one at all in 2016. He has a .980 fielding percentage with 97 defensive assists and has turned 18 double plays in 39 games this season. After being told for so many years in the minors that Xander would develop into a power hitting shortstop with limited defensive skills, he’s become the exact opposite as of late. He may not be able to replicate his 21 home runs from last season, but if he manages to steal 30 bags this season, I don’t think the Red Sox will mind.
Which brings us the the Least Valuable position player(s): Every Red Sox 3rd baseman.
You don't have anything to be smiling about this year, Panda..
To say that 3rd base has been a black hole for the Red Sox this season would be an understatement. If you sort the Red Sox offense by WAR, the 4 lowest players have all spent meaningful time at the hot corner. Sandoval is sporting a -.5, Brock Holt is at -.2, Deven Marrero and Josh Rutledge are both at -.1, and the only 3rd baseman with a positive WAR is Marco Hernandez and his 0.2. It’s been an offensive and defensive wasteland for most of the season. I’ve written about this already this season, and it hasn’t gotten any better since.
Sandoval went on the DL with a .213/.269/.377 line with 4 errors in 17 games. Marco was a bit better offensively, sporting a .276/.300/.328 line before he got injured, but he had already committed 6 errors in 18 games before he went on the DL. Rutledge looked like he might be able to contribute offensively from 3rd, but he committed 3 errors in 9 games. Marrero looks like he might be the most have the most success at 3rd this season, since being called up he’s yet to commit an error in 14 games, but has a pretty bad .139/.184/.194 line. Personally, the fact that he can actually play defense makes the offensive struggles pretty insignificant. It’s been that bad.
Is Marrero the answer at third base? Probably not.
Dishonorable Mentions: Sandy Leon.
It was never going to be sustainable with Sandy. It’s very unlikely that career AAA players suddenly turn into the next Ted Williams in their age 27 season. In his first 43 games last year, the Red Sox managed to capture lightning in a bottle. With a .383/.435/.639 line, 6 HRs and 23 RBIs, 2016 Sandy would be leading the Red Sox in almost every offensive stat this season.
Haven't seen much like this from Sandy lately
Unfortunately Sandy came back down to Earth after his hot start last year and is currently batting .250/.284/.429 with 4 HRs and 13 RBIs. No one expected him to be a <.350 hitter but he has been aggressively average so far this season. His defense has also been pretty so so, and if you want to be a good big league catcher you either need to hit well, or play excellent defense. Sandy is currently doing neither of these very well. Aggressively average.
That pretty much does it for my quarter year wrap up. It looks like the Red Sox should be better than their record, but time will tell whether they can really step up and get hot enough to make some noise this season.
Are Farrell's days in Boston numbered?
The sky is not falling in Boston quite yet, but if they can’t start to string some games together and stop hovering around .500, look for some moves, a possibly some firings, to be made before the deadline.