Boston Red Sox: Grading the first third of the season

It has been a season of inconsistencies so far for the Boston Red Sox.

They come into tonight’s game against the Detroit Tigers with a record of 27-34 — 10 games out of first and holders of the 6th worst winning percentage in baseball. Over the last 22 games, Boston has had a 10-game losing streak, a 7-game winning streak, and has now lost 5 in a row, all in that order. I don’t remember the last time they had an easy win. And I sure as hell don’t remember the last time they were at .500. When the pitching is good, the offense stalls. When the offense is clicking, the pitching implodes. And when they are both good, the defense gives away outs.

It isn’t the same team. I get it. But the Red Sox brought back much of the same roster, including  all five starting pitchers from last year’s championship club. A year ago, the Red Sox had a run differential of plus-197, the best in MLB. To this point in June, Boston has a run differential of minus-18. This isn’t just a hangover. It’s just not a very good baseball team right now.

With all that being said, Boston is by no means out of the race. They have dug themselves a hole, but a good month of baseball might be all it takes to get the Red Sox on track. For that we will have to wait, but for Boston’s grade through the first third of the season we will not.

Here it is:

Offense

Time is a flat circle ladies and gentleman.

The Red Sox began the year with a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position. That was in April. Now, we’re in June, and the same problem still persists.

As a team, they are hitting just .241 with runners in scoring position (125-for-518), with an OPS of .695. With RISP, they have grounded into the 3rd most double plays at 24, and have struck out 130 times. Even with the opportunities there, the middle of the order hasn’t been able to protect a bottom third that has looked punchless at times.

The man we call Big Papi has seen his average slip down to .260. He’s homered 13 times and driven in 35 runs, but hasn’t been that same force us fans are accustomed to. A lot of that has to do with the absence of Mike Napoli, who’s been riddled with injuries all season long. He’s missed 18 games, but returns to the lineup tonight. His power lends protection to Ortiz, who has completely nosedived without him.

But Napoli isn’t the only blow the Red Sox have faced offensively. Shane Victorino, Mike Carp, and Will Middlebrooks are all currently on the DL, with Victorino being the most pivotal member of that trio. The injuries have created little consistency among Boston’s lineup, and one big, disgusting mess in the outfield.

Boston Red Sox

David Ortiz

Red Sox’ center fielders are batting a league worst .191, and it’s the same tune for their right fielders who are hitting just .206. The breakdown looks something like this: Jackie Bradley Jr., who despite playing tremendous defense, has looked overmatched at the plate with an OPS of just .581; The Grady Sizemore experiment has failed as he’s yielded a .222 average with 2 home runs, and only 14 RBI’s in 48 games; Somebody stole the real Daniel Nava; Jonny Gomes is mostly the same as last year, but his .169 average against right handers immediately stands out; And not surprisingly, Mike Carp hasn’t been able to come off the bench and crush pitches on command.

If Boston wants to get this offense right, it starts in the outfield. I don’t think they can continue to play with the way it is currently constructed. Make a move at the deadline, or get Mookie Betts up to Boston ASAP. They must address the weak link of the roster.

GRADE: D+

MVP: Xander Bogaerts

Starting Pitching

Again, the word here folks is inconsistent.

The top half of the rotation — Jon Lester and John Lackey — have carried their share of the load.

Despite being roughed up in his last start, Lester has paired with Lackey to anchor the starting rotation. In 84.1 innings, Lester has pitched his way to a 3.52 ERA with 23 walks, 93 strikeouts, and a record of 6-7. The win/loss record isn’t pretty, but to me, that stat isn’t the telling sign of how well a pitcher has thrown the ball — Max Scherzer’s ERA is just .14 points lower, and he is 7-2.

However, still without a contract extension, you wonder if that starts to linger in the back of Lester’s head. The smart bet would be for the Sox to put their ace at ease, and push forward with the negotiations.

[Boston Red Sox: The return of Stephen Drew]

As for John Lackey, he’s backed up his 2013 efforts with another brilliant pitching display in 2014. His command for the fastball has been a huge reason why he’s 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA. According toFanGraphs, Lackey has used his fastball 64.9 percent of the time, that’s up 4.3 percent from last year. He’s been able to get ahead of hitters and command the ball well down by the knees.  At the age of 35, Lackey is generating the highest amount of swings and misses at strikes since his 2005 season with the Angels and is setting himself up to have a career year.

Of course, no amount of aces could clean up the bottom of the Red Sox’ rotation.

Jake Peavy’s lack of velocity has left him vulnerable to getting pelted. He’s been forced to paint instead of pitch, and because of it, has suffered. His ERA is creeping towards replacement at 4.72, and his lack of confidence in his 88 MPH fastball has led him to walk 30 batters in 74.1 innings.

Felix Doubront remains the most mysterious pitcher on the roster. The 6-foot-2 left-hander from Venezuela was having an awful season before being placed on the DL. For starters, he’s thrown just 45.2 innings in 9 starts, roughly 5 innings per start for those who struggle with math. That’s no bueno. Batters are hitting .277 against Doubront, including a .340 average for left handers (??). That’s also no bueno. This was his third full year in the rotation, and was supposed to be the year he put everything together. Instead, he’s taken everything apart and put the Red Sox in a lot of bad situations in his starts.

Boston Red Sox

Buchholz will try and ease his way back into the starting rotation after being placed on the DL.

Clay Buchholz’s 2014 has been atrocious. Statistically, he was one of the worst starters in MLB before making a much needed trip to the DL. He had an ERA above 7, a WHIP of 1.98, and, wait for it, an opponents batting average of .339!

I mean the dude was getting shelled every time he took the mound. Everybody seemed to just be waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the next start when he would get things going. But that start never happened.

Even with the emergence of some young talent like Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, Boston is going to need Clay Buchholz to figure it out if they want to make a serious run at the playoffs.

GRADE: C+

MVP: John Lackey

Bullpen

With a combined ERA of 2.96, the Boston bullpen remains the strength of the team.

Coming into the season, the Red Sox were projected to have a fantastic bullpen, and the expectations have been met.

The duo of Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa has worked wonders in the late innings. Tazawa has a 2.36 ERA in 26.2 innings pitched, and as long as he’s not facing the Toronto Blue Jays, he is an excellent set-up man. From the other side, Miller continues to embrace his role in the bullpen. His splits — .212 against lefties, .206 against righties — suggest that he is more than just a specialist, and his K/9 ratio of 14.03 makes him a valuable asset with runners on.

Koji Uehera continues to dominate operating as the closer for Boston over the last two seasons. He’s made the most of his limited save opportunities this year, going 11/11 with a 0.70 ERA and just 4 walks to 36 punch outs.

Carrying more leads into the late innings is an obvious goal of every team in MLB. But if Boston can really start to do that on a more consistent basis and put the ball in the hands of Uehara in the 9th, this season could start to turn around.

GRADE: A

MVP: Koji Uehara

 

Visit the Boston Red Sox team page for more content and opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>