Red Sox Mid-Term Grades

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The Red Sox are now officially into the second half of the 2019 season, having played their 82nd game in their 8-7 loss to the White Sox in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon.  Having reached that milestone, it seemed like a good opportunity to look back at the first half and evaluate the performances of the players, manager, and general manager.  In this week's Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I hand out some mid-term grades to the 2019 Boston Red Sox, and take a quick look ahead to the upcoming weekend series in London against the red-hot Yankees.  

For grading sake, all evaluations are based on a curve depending on the individual’s past performance and expectations coming into the season, not on overall statistics or value to the team.  

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Position Players  (AVG/OBP/SLG, HR, RBI)

Xander Bogaerts – A  (.298/.389/.534, 15, 54)

After a couple of down years Bogaerts had a breakout season in 2018, and that upward trewnd has continued in the first half of 2019.  Bogaerts has been the Red Sox most consistent player this season.  Signing a long-term extension at the beginning of the season has not affected his performance, in fact, it seems to have solidified his leadership role on the team.  While not flashy and lacking range defensively, he is solid and makes all the routine plays.

Rafael Devers – A  (.322/.373/.524, 12, 49)

Devers has been a pleasant surprise in 2019.  He has had several stretches this season where he has been the toughest out in the lineup, and is showing all the signs of becoming a perennial All-Star at the tender age of 22.  After a slow start in which he went deep into the season without hitting a home run, he has gone on a tear and is now solidified as a middle of the order presence, providing the only real left handed hitting power threat in the lineup.  He has also shown an ability to hit in the clutch.  His defense has also improved dramatically as his overall confidence improves.

Christian Vazquez – B+  (.288/.326/.475, 10, 30)

Vazquez has bounced back nicely after a sub-par year in 2018.  Perhaps it was the release of Blake Swihart that finally allowed Vazquez to settle in as the everyday catcher, but his turnaround coincides almost to the day with Swihart’s departure.  Vazquez bat has played a key role in several victories so far this season.  He effectively controls a team’s running game behind the plate, and is not afraid to throw behind runners, logging a number of pick-offs.  One area of improvement needed is in his blocking of pitches, where he can get lazy on occasion and lets balls by him to the backstop.

J.D. Martinez – B  (.287/.364/.528, 17, 45)

After a monster season in 2018, especially in the first half, Martinez’s numbers are down in 2019.  Part of the reason is a re-occurrence of back spasms which have cost him a number of games.  The lack of production from the table setters at the top of the order have also affected his run production.  With the emergence of Devers as a power threat, and with Martinez heading into his mid-30s, the Red Sox may be content to let him opt out of his contract at the end of the season if the trend continues.

Brock Holt – B  (.318/.380/.420, 1, 15)

You either love or hate the “Brock Star”.  I’m of the opinion you need a player of his caliber on a successful team; a guy who can play multiple positions when needed and doesn’t sulk when he’s not in the lineup.  He isn’t an everyday player, but he doesn’t hurt you when he is in the lineup.  This year, when health, he has contributed more often than not.

Andrew Benintendi – B-  (.277/.359/.438, 7, 36)

Benintendi failed in the leadoff role, and his bat has not really come around since being returned to the two-hole.  His progression seems to have stagnated, and arguably has taken a step back from 2018.  He has also been given “days off” when facing left handed pitching.  I expected Benintendi to progress to an All-Star caliber player, and right now he is just an average major league hitter, maybe even a platoon-player.

2019 MLB All-Star Gear at MLBshop.comMookie Betts – C+  (.261/.379/.459, 13, 37)

While no one expected Betts to repeat his MVP season of 2018, certainly no one expected him to revert to the Mookie of 2017.  Betts has not been able to consistently find his swing, and has often looked baffled at the plate.  Many were ready to place him alongside Mike Trout as one of the superstars of the game, but that now seems premature.  He does not appear to be playing the game with the same joy as he has in the past.  This may be due to the pressure of being the team’s marque player, looming free agency, but Mookie has just not had “it” this season.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. – C  (.220/.326/.388, 8, 27)

We’ve seen it time and time again.  Bradley gets off to a horrendous start, gets red hot for a span of about a month, then goes cold again.  This season is shaping up as more of the same.  Bradley has only recently gotten above the Mendoza line and is hitting, but how long will it last.  I am of the opinion that his defense alone makes him worthy of insertion in the lineup every day, particularly when you are now getting healthy production from Vazquez in the catcher spot.

Michael Chavis – C  (.263/.336/.449, 12, 38)

The rookie made a huge splash after being called up in early May, hitting tape measure home runs and giving a shot of energy to what was at the time a lifeless team.  However, the opposing pitchers quickly learned that Chavis struggled with both high fastballs and sliders down and away.  He has since rebounded somewhat, but still strikeouts far too often and does not consistently provide quality at bats.  Only the continued health issues of Mitch Moreland and Steven Pearce have kept him on the major league roster.

Eduardo Nunez – C-  (.236/.253/.318, 2, 18)

He is a serviceable substitute at third base, and with his knees finally healthy he can be an effective pinch runner.  But his bat has been inconsistent, and he lacks range as a middle infielder.

Sandy Leon – D  (.195/.272/.293, 2, 11)

Leon is on the team for one reason alone – to be Chris Sale’s personal catcher.  He also works well with Rick Porcello, which is a bonus.  Beyond that, his offensive contributions are about as common as a full solar eclipse.

Mitch Moreland – I  (.225/.316/.543, 13, 34)

Moreland got off to a red-hot start, leading the team in home runs and RBI in the early part of the season when the rest of the lineup was struggling.  But as he so often does he has struggled to stay off the injured list.

Steve Pearce – I  (.180/.245/.258, 1, 9)

What a difference a few months make.  Last years World Series MVP never got on track offensively, and when it appeared he might have found his swing, he ended up on the IL.  The only thing keeping his grade from being an “F” is his injuries.  Don’t be surprised if he is traded at the deadline or outright released to make room on the roster.

Dustin Pedroia – I  (.100/.143/.100, 0, 1)

What’s left to be said?

Marco Hernandez – I  (.250/.270/.417, 1, 5)

Hernandez has only recently returned to play after nearly two and a half years lost due to multiple shoulder surgeries.  He has displayed a quick bat and a flair for the big play in his brief playing time.

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Starting Pitchers  (W-L, ERA, WHIP, Ks, BBs)

David Price – A- (5-2, 3.36, 1.12, 82, 15)

Price has been the true ace of the Red Sox staff this season.  Chris Sale may be the more dominant of the two at times, but Price has been by far the most consistent starter in the first half of 2019.  He has also done what I and so many others have begged him to do since he joined the team before the 2016 season.  He has shut up and pitched.

Chris Sale – B  (3-7, 3.82, 1.03, 148, 24)

The season got off to a bad start for Sale, coming off a 2018 season in which he missed almost the entire second half and over 5 MPH off his fastball upon his return.  He signed a big contract extension prior to the start of this season, but poor performance and even further reduced velocity on his fastball to start the season further fueled speculation his shoulder was still not right.  Sale has turned in some dominant performances against the Orioles and Royals of the league (a.k.a. doormats), but the signature win against the wagons of the league continues to elude him.  He has been a victim of a lack of run support from his mates, which is one reason his won-lost record is so bad.

Eduardo Rodriguez – B- (8-4, 4.87, 1.35, 97, 27)

What a tease.  Red Sox fans keep waiting for Rodriguez to reach the pinnacle of elite pitcher status.  He displays flashes of brilliance at times, followed by lapses in concentration.  Rodriguez was the only starter who was not held back in spring training, but like the rest of the staff got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season.  He has also been the beneficiary of healthy run support which helps pad his won-loss record.

Rick Porcello  - B-  (5-7, 4.52, 1.35, 76, 29)

Poor Rick Porcello.  Going into the final year of his contract, he’s seen Nathan Eovaldi re-signed to a free agent deal and Chris Sale inked to a contract extension.  He is shaping up to be the odd man out in what unfortunately comes down to a luxury tax issue.  This is too bad, because Porcello almost never misses his turn and more often than not turns in a quality performance.  He isn’t the Cy Young quality pitcher from 2018, but he is a better than average, middle of the rotation major league starter who eats up innings.  If the Red Sox fall out of contention, expect Porcello to be dealt at the deadline.  Either way he is almost assuredly gone after this season.  I will be sorry to see him go.

Nathan Eovaldi – I  (0-0. 6.00, 1.52, 16, 11)

When Eovaldi signed his four-year deal in the offseason the main concern was his health.  Those fears were quickly realized when he landed on the injured list in April with “loose bodies” in his surgically repaired elbow.  With the All-Star break less than two weeks away, Eovaldi is still only playing catch, with no return in sight.  The Red Sox need this Yankee killer if they are going to have any hopes of catcher the Bombers for the Division Title.

Relief Pitchers/Spot Starters  (W-L, ERA, WHIP, Ks, BBs, SV/SVOpp)

Heath Hembree – B+  (1-0, 2.51, 1.12, 35, 12, 0/1)

Not much was expected of Hembree coming into the season, but he steadily worked his way up to being one of Cora’s go-to choices in high leverage situations,  Unfortunately, as he was ready to take on the greater load, an injury forced him to the injured list with an elbow strain.  This loss has put a further burden on an already thin bullpen.

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Marcus Walden – B+  (6-0, 2.72, 1.02, 49, 11, 1/3)

Where would the Red Sox be without Walden?  His name was nowhere to be found in the preseason roster projections, but he has taken advantage of every opportunity and, like Hembree, has worked his way to the end of the bullpen, even getting opportunities to save games.  Further proof that good bullpen arms can sometimes come out of nowhere.

Matt Barnes – B  (3-3, 4.19, 1.28, 61, 17, 4/10)

Barnes has performed better than was expected coming into the season, but a heavy work load is already taking its toll on his performance.  He has been pressed into a “stopper” role in the bullpen, rather than a traditional closer.  This means he is drawing the heart of the opponents lineup on a regular basis.  His six blown saves in ten save opportunities indicates the experiment is not working.

Brandon Workman – B (7-1, 1.70, 1.03, 53, 28, 3/6)

Workman’s stats are somewhat deceiving.  Earlier in the season he had a run of over nine innings without allowing a hit, and has also performed better than was expected coming into the season.  However, his 28 walks allowed in 40 innings pitched is a concern.  A reliever lives dangerously when walking batters, and it is only a matter of time before the walks come back to bite Workman.

Colten Brewer – B-  (1-2, 4.24, 1.76, 32-22, 0/0)

Dave Dombrowski’s only real acquisition over the winter.  Brewer has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors.  He has pitched effectively in a limited role, but he is not yet ready to take on late inning work.

Ryan Brasier – D  (2-3, 3.34, 1.11, 30, 10, 7/10)

Going into Spring Training Brasier was one of the favorites to land the closer job after the departure of Craig Kimbrel.  A toe injury early on in camp set him back for several weeks, and things have not gone well for him since returning.  Aside from Betts, his drop-off in performance from last season is the most striking, in a spot in which the Red Sox had no margin for error.  He has recently worked his way back into the late inning mix, so hopefully he is poised to have a strong second half.

Hector Velazquez – D-  (1-3, 5.59, 1.37, 35, 17, 0/1)

Valazquez was needed as a swingman after Eovaldi went down, filling a role in which he excelled in 2018.  Unfortunately Valazquez could not deliver or stay healthy.  He is once again on the injured list.

Tyler Thornburg – F  (0-0, 7.71, 1.66, 22, 10, 0/0)

Thornburg never put it together from Opening Day, and his outright release seemed imminent.  Perhaps Dombrowski is holding out hope he can return to form, or he does not want to give up on him after trading away Travis Shaw to acquire him.  Either way, he is currently in Pawtucket on a rehab assignment (hip injury).  In six appearances with the PawSox, Thornburg is 0-2 with a 20.25 ERA and 3.176 WHIP in 5.2 IP.  It’s hard to believe he will ever appear in a Boston uniform again.

Brian Johnson – I  (1-1, 6.43, 2.00, 13, 6, 0/0)

Another player who could have contributed in the absence of Eovaldi but could not remain healthy.  Johnson has recently come back from almost two months on the IL, and will most likely fill the fifth starter role until Eovaldi’s return.

Steven Wright – I  (0-0, 0.00, 1.00, 1, 0, 0/0)

Wright was activated Tuesday after missing the first 80 games of the season to a PED suspension.  He would have filled a key gap in late innings or as a starter with Eovaldi out.  He is also rehabbing from the same knee surgery that was performed on Pedroia, so Wright’s ability to stay healthy has to be an ongoing cause for concern.

Manager/General Manager

Alex Cora – D

Last year every decision made by the rookie manager turned into gold.  In 2019, they have turned into something much less.  Cora’s arrogance over his 2018 accomplishments clouded his judgment and preparedness for the team coming into the season, and the team has still not fully recovered.  Cora flip-flopped Betts and Benintendi at the top of the lineup for no reason, and both have suffered in the first half. 

As an example of his hubris, in Monday’s game against the White Sox, Cora made a pitching change with a three and two count on the batter.  He told Brewer, the reliever who was lifted, to “have faith in your crazy manager”.  He then told the media after the game the move was something he had been thinking about doing for some time.  Why?  Because it would be cool?

Dave Dombrowski – D

As mentioned previously, the only acquisition brought in by Dombrowski in the offseason was Brewer, a serviceable but unheralded front of the bullpen pitcher.  This was after losing Joe Kelly and Kimbrel to free agency.  He gambled on the arms that remained in the bullpen, even after those same arms struggled through almost all of 2018 and watched the starting pitchers shoulder most of the relief work in the postseason.  Dombrowski also re-signed Eovaldi and Pearce when they hit free agency.  Neither has been able to contribute so far.

Dombrowski may be up against the luxury tax, but his gamble that the potent offense would bail out a weak bullpen has been a bust.  With virtually nothing to trade in the minors, and the reluctance to exceed the luxury tax threshold, his options to make a deal to bolster the bullpen are limited.  Will he be willing to trade away a Betts or Martinez to restock the farm system should the Red Sox fall out of contention before the trade deadline?  Don’t count on it.

Look Ahead

With the loss to the White Sox Wednesday, the Red Sox played their final game at Fenway until after the All-Star break.  There record at home in 2019 has been atrocious (20-20), and a major reason they sit nine games out of first place in the AL East.

The Red Sox technically have two more home games left to play, as the two games in London against the Yankees will count as home games.  Going to London to play only two games at this point of the season is inexplicably, other than an attempt by John Henry and the Fenway Sports Group to increase its profile in the country where they also own the Liverpool soccer team.

One thing to watch in this series will be the small dimensions of the playing field, which will feature a distance of 330 feet down each line but only 385 feet to dead center.  With a team that is bashing home runs at a record pace, the Yankee hitters must be salivating at the prospect of hitting in London Stadium.  Yankee Stadium is already a joke when it comes to the short right field porch, where routine fly balls to the warning track in every other major league stadium have a habit of finding the seats.  The Yankees could have a field day in London, much to the displeasure of Red Sox pitchers and fans.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Red Sox Mid-Term Grades
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