Saturday, July 07, 2012

Middle of the road, man it stanks/Let's run over Lionel Richie with a tank

Half-way through the 2012 MLB season and what can one say about the Boston Red Sox? No depth? Too many injuries?  Not enough pitching? Missing their closer? Missing their shortstop(s)? How about everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong?  I'm going with all of the above.  The Red Sox, despite their massive payroll, have been entirely middle-of-the-pack.  Time to examine what little has gone right, as almost everything has gone wrong with the Red Sox so far in the 2012 season.

The base numbers back it all up: The Red Sox are entirely ordinary--middle of the pack in pitching; middle of the pack in hitting; middle of the pack in the standings. The stats don't lie. The Sox are 10th overall of 30 teams in their total VORP for batters (Value Over Replacement Player--think of it as a scrub player equals a zero [absolutely ordinary]--above that, good and below that, bad); The Red Sox also rank 13th of 30 in their total VORP for pitching. Yes, it is simplifying the stats looking at total VORP, but look at the best teams, they are at the top of the rankings. Total VORP usually tells the story: Texas, Washington, and the Yankees are top three total VORP for pitching; St Louis, Texas, the Yankees (and Washington) are the top in total VORP for batters.  Check the standings and you see Texas, Washington, the Yankees and St Louis: the proof is in the pudding.


The Red Sox players who are gone, not performing well, or not even getting on the field has been discussed and written about non-stop so far this season.  The over-achievers and those carrying their own weight? That list is much shorter than the lists of disappointing and disappeared players.  Today is the day to focus on the positive, as there has not been much of it.  That said, even trying to be positive, this is Boston, and somehow positives just bring up more negatives. It feels like 2002, not 2012 at Fenway Park:

  • ALL-STARS:
    • David Ortiz, DH: 
      • As the designated hitter position slowly dissolves away from big, slugging specialists, Ortiz continues to turn-back the clock as a classic masher. Despite his cries of disrespect and longing for a long-term deal, the fact is that his market is limited and his fit is in Fenway Park.  He is 36 and has performed while on a one-year deal. Why would management give in to him now?  Regardless, the man has earned every penny this season.  22.7 VORP so far this season, and a .998 OPS?  I  repeat: David Ortiz is overpaid, yet he still has earned every penny. Let him get angry, let him complain, just keep his bat in the line-up.  For all Adrian Gonzalez has failed to be so far in a Boston uniform, Big Papi has totally re-invented himself as a masher of lefties and left his horrible seasons (see 2009, for example) far in the past.
    • Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C:
      • He may not be the starter, but he is the best catcher in the AL so far this season. Salty is second on the team with 16 dingers, and is slugging his way to a 14.1 VORP so far this season. Funny, but there has not been a peep about the Sox missing the "Captain" Jason Varitek so far this season from Pink Hat Nation.  That alone shows how well Saltalamacchia has done this season.  Salty has always had the potential to mash, and his confidence at the plate has shown itself behind the plate as well. He is doing the job and showing why the Red Sox made the right choice getting him, and leaving Russell Martin for the Yankees to inexplicably keep playing with the best collection of catching prospects clogging up in the minor leagues.
    • Cody Ross, LF:
      • An afterthought in the off-season, Ross and his .900 OPS have kept the middle of the line-up from being an abyss.  With injuries and dismal performances all around, Ross has shown his fit at Fenway by slugging away at the green monster.  As one of the few right-handed power bats in the line-up, Ross is setting himself up nicely for a big off-season payday.  Someone, maybe Boston, will shell out the big bucks for Ross.  He may not be more than a Trot Nixon/Tom Brunansky-type hitter, but Ross has truly been one of the few bright spots at Fenway Park this year.
  • THE JURY'S STILL OUT:
    • Will Middlebrooks, 3B:
      • The phenom has joined the big-league team and relegated Kevin Youkilis to a change of Sox.  Despite some dings and strains, Middlebrooks has certainly lived up to his hype, becoming the first home-grown power hitter in Boston since...Youkilis himself? With 21 of his 51 hits for extra-bases, Middlebrooks gives the Sox another right-handed power bat with Ross, when on the field. How he adapts when pitchers adapt to him will be key, but for now, he looks like the real deal
    • Daniel Nava, CF:
      • A non-prospect who did not even garner an invite to spring training, the Sox have ridden the hot-hitting Nava and his desperately needed .849 OPS and 14.3 VORP.  Sure, its a small sample size, and yes, there is a trip back down to AAA or a release in his future, but for now, he's hitting and should be playing. The long-term outlook may not be bright like Middlebrooks, but so far Nava has been one of the top 5 hitters on this team.  With All-Stars like Dustin Pedroia hurt, Kevin Youkilis not hitting before hitting the road, Adrian Gonzalez hitting singles, and Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury out, Nava has been one of the few players to step-up in their absence.
    • Felix Doubront, SP:
      • The best starter this season? Yup, Prince Felix of the Crimson Hose.  Outperforming even Jon Lester (aka the only starter who looks almost like he cares out on the mound), Doubront has flashed some of that potential that the Sox front-office raved about these past few years.  Unfortunately, it is only half-way through the season and Doubront has been looking shaky lately.  In his last 5 starts, Doubront has slipped to Beckett/Buchholz level with a 5.93 ERA.  Has he hit a wall, or will he bounce back to his early season form?
    • Franklin Morales, SP/RP:
      • Wait, Franklin Morales has been the Sox second-best pitcher this year? A cast-off from the Rockies whose pitching is historically bad this season? That Franklin Morales?  Yeesh. This just emphasizes how terrible Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz have been this season. Morales has a small sample-size this season, and his larger body of work suggests its not long until he resorts to form.  Has he finally learned to pitch, or has he simply not been caught-up to by the rest of the league?
    • Scott Atchison, RP:
      • Daniel Bard is in AAA after a colossal failure as a starter.  The Sox best starter in spring training (Alfredo Aceves) is closing as Andrew Bailey has been on the disabled list all season. Scott Atchison has just taken the ball and got results out of the bullpen.  Nothing flashy, no high strikeout totals, just outs. As a player bouncing up and down for years now, is it a mirage? Is he the real deal? I doubt it, but he's one of the few Red Sox players that one can root for and feel good about.  On a team full of malcontents, beer and chicken, and Bobby Valentine, Atchison at least appears to be a regular guy, a good guy, and a blue collar pitcher who takes the ball and does his job.  The team could stand a few more players like him.

That's it? That's what almost $200 million buys a team for production above replacement-level?  Sadly, it does for the Red Sox in 2012.  A lot of "maybe's" exist for the Red Sox in the second half of the season, but it looks most likely that General Manager Ben Cherington needs to take a long look at what is worth keeping, and what is worth unloading and gearing up for 2013.

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