In the middle of the fourth inning against the Orioles the other night the page was turned on the first 25% of the 2011 MLB season for the Boston Red Sox. Are we where we wanted to be? Definitely not. Are we damned? Certainly not. Have our players performed up to expectations? Some have while many have had their struggles. Is our outlook sunnier than the record indicates? With out a doubt. While post-game writeups and Minor Lines are a great way to follow the team game to game, I thought it would be interesting to see how we've looked over the whole thing so far.
It makes sense to start with the top club. Sitting at 21-20 and with the ghost of .500 finally behind us things are looking up, especially after a three game sweep of the Yankees. Looking at the standings the AL East looks as tough as it ever has with the entire division within 4 games of each other, the tightest bunching of any divison in baseball, less than a .100 WP separates the division leading Rays from the bottom dwelling Orioles and the Sox sit tied with the Jays 2.5 games behind, a half a game behind 2nd place New York.
Who have been the standouts so far?
Well, he was who we thought he was, Adrian Gonzalez has been an absolute beast so far this year, his 9th inning heroics the other night are just a small part of the amazing talent he's shown with Boston. His .327/.384/.583 line and .415 wOBA fit in nicely with our projections for him, this is particularly amazing considering he only hit a single HR during the first month of the season. On top of that, his defense is as advertised, excellent. Together he's been a 2.0 WAR player so far, near the top of the league and on pace for a truly great season.
It's no surprise that Kevin Youkilis has been our second best hitter so far with a .392 wOBA, what is surprising that he's done it with a .254/.391/.500 line, he's striking out more than ever but luckily is walking at a great rate while showing the same power that makes him a very underrated offensive powerhouse. His defense has suffered a little with the move across the diamond, but from watching the games it doesn't seem like it's cost us anything really and he's posted a 1.3 WAR so far.
Not sure how to feel about Jacoby Ellsbury being our 3rd most valuable positional player so far? It's OK, I'm amazed too. Jacoby started the season with a lot of power and very little else. He hit 4 HRs by the 18th of April and 0 since and Sox fans couldn't be happier. He's found great success with a new hitting approach, slap hitting, that took him onto a 19 game hitting streak and brought his line up to .302/.358/.457 and a .370 wOBA, even if the SLG goes down a little, this is exactly the sort of hitter we've wanted Jacoby to become, a patient one that can take walks and get on base and then score runs, on pace to score over 100. His defense remains a mixed bag but has still been good enough to allow him a 1.3 WAR on the season.
If there was any player on the Sox you know you never have to worry about, it would have to be Dustin Pedroia. Which is good because so far this season would be worrisome if it was anyone else. His .245/.366/.316 line is far from what we've come to expect from the ROY and MVP winner. I think we all expect him to turn it around. Despite this, he's posted a 1.1 WAR, built upon by some of the best second basemanship I've ever seen. He's diving, leaping and just playing at an incredible level, nothing is getting by him.
Slow starter? Not this year, David Ortiz has silenced the doubters by getting out to a hot start on the season and maintaining it the whole way through. His .287/.372/.490 line and .380 wOBA remind pitchers that just because you got beyond Youkilis, doesn't mean the pain is over with our lineup. Not much else to say, Big Papi came to play this year and didn't even let the monkey get near his back with a slow start. 0.9 WAR from DH this far into the season, I'll take it.
Jedi, Jed Williams, #thelegendofjedlowrie and hell, even jlowww, are all terms of endearment for Jed Lowrie who went on a tear to start the season and cemented his place as our starting SS. His .320/.356/.500 line is certainly cooler than his line from earlier this year when he was hitting over .400 but still very good and a major reason why so many were high on him to start the year. He's kept it up with some very clutch hitting and is making a major case for us to consider him as more than just a placeholder. His defense hasn't been great, but as with Youk's, hasn't been particularly detrimental. His 0.9 WAR on the season plays very well at his position.
J.D. Drew is our last positively contributing starter, his .243/.373/.351 line isn't what we'd like to see, the patience that we can count on has been there but that power hasn't shown it's face yet. This is especially surprising considering that Tito has done a good job setting him up to succeed by keeping him away from the LHP that have plagued him these last couple of seasons. In the field he's been good old Drew and playing it well, his 0.7 WAR is alright.
Now onto the more disappointing members of the 2011 squad.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been everyone's favorite scape goat this year, his .217/.261/.313 line demonstrates that pretty well. His defense hasn't been great but lately his throwing ability has been a little better. With no clear in house options to take over the starting job he may get quite a long time to prove himself, but if he doesn't pick it up soon an outside-the-organization option might be brought in to give him a rest. In the scheme of things, he's a catcher performing poorly, welcome Red Sox fans to just about every catcher in the league, his -0.1 WAR tells the story well.
The Captain Jason Varitek has also been pretty bad, his .183/.269/.233 line is just the pits, and he's seemed to be about the least clutch player I ever remember. His defense at the plate has been better than Salty's but he also struggles controlling the running game. His -0.3 WAR isn't good. Hate to see it end this way for El Capitan but I'm not sure how much longer he's going to be on the roster.
Lastly of the regulars, there is Carl Crawford. Man, hard to say just how terrible his first month with Boston truly was. He went from a top of the order must have to our 8th hitter rather quickly. His .208/.241/.283 line is not what we paid millions and millions of dollars for. But the man has a solid track record and this is very likely not his true talent level. Looking at his splits, so far his OPS is .200 points higher than it was last month, so things are looking up and he's starting to get some of that pressure off of himself. His fielding has been OK but Fenway is definitely trying to do its best to mitigate his value there and his -0.7 WAR is among the bottom 5 in the league for qualifying players.
Now let's take a look at our starting pitching.
Josh Beckett is looking like the ace he used to be, his results have been great, 1.75 ERA and 1.5 WAR. His peripherals are decent too but suggest a little luck on his part, his FIP/xFIP is 2.71/3.10, still excellent but a little worse than what we've seen and even if he regresses to them, we'll still be ecstatic.
Jon Lester's season is a little more representative of how it's been for our pitching staff, a roller coaster ride. We're happy to see him mostly get over his early season jitters and his 3.28 ERA in May has to be among the lowest in his career, xFIP suggests he's pitching to ability, FIP suggests some regression. But it's Jon Lester, essentially the Dustin Pedroia of our rotation, we don't have to worry about him, his HR/FB rate is pretty fluky anyway. Expect him to settle down and bring us ace numbers the rest of the way, his 0.5 WAR has been OK.
No one was sure what to expect from Clay Buchholz this year after his excellent 2010 season. Was he going to regress to his peripherals or were they going to regress to him much the same way Lester did during his development? After 25% of the season, we still don't know the answer. The season started roughly for him, like most of the rest of the team but the last 18.2 innings he's been the Clay we remember and bringing himself down to a 3.94 ERA and 0.2 WAR, giving us hope for the front 60% of our rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka squeaks into positive contributor range with a 0.1 WAR on his 5.30 ERA, backed by not so great peripherals. It looks like we won't be seeing him for a while as he just hit the DL with a UCL sprain being the major reason. Maybe this has been the problem or maybe it's just Dice being Dice. He did provide us with two excellent starts back to back last month were he looked like that pitcher we thought we were getting but followed them up with some rough performances.
John Lackey's 8.01 ERA and 0.0 WAR was not what we expected from the man after a solid second half to his first season in Boston. Honestly we have no idea what the problem is. He did have a cortisone shot in his elbow so it may be injury related. His wife is also going through some major health issues so it's possible there have been some things in his head more important than baseball, he's getting a good stint on the disabled list, hopefully he can sort it out and be the pitcher he was, we're definitely going to need it with some less than ideal options filling in the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
The revamped bullpen has been a mixed bag, but largely a very positive note for this team. Jonathan Papelbon, my own favorite non-tender candidate from last season might have finally gotten it into his head that his fastball might not be the only option. He's throwing that slider now more than ever in his career and his peripheral stats indicate that he's having one of the best seasons of his career, his 2.70/1.13/2.31 ERA/FIP/xFIP line shows that pretty well, along with his 0.8 WAR, funny how that worked out. If he keeps this up, he might actually be worth keeping around. Daniel Bard was knocked around recently by the Yankees but still has been our second most valuable member in the pen with a 0.5 WAR and 3.00 ERA in those high leverage situations. So who's our 3rd best bullpen member? Dan Wheeler? Bobby Jenks? Nope, neither of those heralded signings are even active right now. Red Sox Nation, meet Matt Albers, his 1.65 ERA and 0.5 WAR speak for themselves. His stats don't lineup well with his career numbers, but with relief pitching as variable as it is, we were due to catch a little lightning right? Albers has been a welcome addition. Rich Hill, Hideki Okajima, Scott Atchinson and Bobby Jenks have all provided 0.1 WAR each in less than 10 innings of work. Jenks hasn't been around lately and is working on a come back, suddenly his peripherals were matching his poor results from last year. Positive additions from the other three are certainly welcome, especially Okajima when the merits of bringing him back were dubious, I feel he and Hill are being used in much the same role that Saito was so successful at a couple years ago, low leverage but keeping our bullpen aces rested for when we need them.
Tim Wakefield (soon to be promoted to the starting rotation), Alfredo Aceves, Dan Wheeler and Dennys Reyes represent the negatively contributing members of the pen. Wheeler and Reyes aren't with the team currently and most are hoping they take their time. Wakefield and Aceves are the two guys we are hoping to step up in the rotation while Lackey and Dice rehab but it isn't going to be a pretty sight. We know what to expect from Wake the starter. If the knuckle ball is dancing he'll be fine, unfortunately it dances less and less these days and rather flies over the wall. Aceves has had good results but his peripherals suggest some regressing is due, but we hope not, we might really need him soon.
That pretty much sums up how things have been in Boston, some surprising numbers so far, but a ton of hope for the players that are struggling, largely due to their long histories as solid player.
Now let's take a look down on the farm. Rather than going team-to-team, I'll take a trip down Over The Monster's Top 20 prospect list along with a few add-ins (mostly became team performance doesn't particularly matter in the minors.)
1. Ryan Kalish, I'm not going to bother posting his line, it's irrelevant really. He never even got the chance to prove anything before a shoulder injury sidelined him since mid-April. This is very unfortunate since a strong showing would help belay fears about our RF going into the 2012 season with Drew's contract expiring. It's wait and see and hope he gets on the field soon from here on out.
2. Anthony Ranuado, he's been pretty good so far with a 3.86 ERA over 35 IP, his 39:15 K:BB ratio is promising as well. Worth noting that 11 of his 15 ERs have come from two starts against the same team, he's dominated everyone else he's faced. Might be timing or maybe that team is loaded with talent. Either way, solid start.
3. Jose Iglesias, currently in Boston, due largely to an injury with Yamaico Navarro rather than because of his performance. His .253/.278/.253 line really makes me question the promotion to Pawtucket to start the season. We know all about his defense, but that bat needs some work and he wasn't able to do that in AA last year. Most worisome of all is that he hasn't had a single XBH in 87 ABs. He still has plenty of time though.
4. Felix Doubront, he clearly wasn't healthy enough to start the season in Boston, and quickly was sent back to Pawtucket where he turned things around very quickly. His 1.98 ERA and 18 Ks in 13.2 innings tell us he's still ready to contribute. However he's currently on the disabled list so we're going to have to wait a little longer.
5. Drake Britton, his control has been a little wild, his 22:20 K:BB ratio shows that pretty well through his first 31.1 IP, making his 6.61 ERA no surprise.
6. Ryan Lavarnway, his .227/.303/.383 line isn't what we really wanted to see from him, the power is still there with 6 HRs but he's seemingly fallen apart at the plate otherwise, his OPS this month is creeping closer to .800 which is a good sign but it still isn't pretty.
7. Stolmy Pimental, looks largely like bad luck has led to his 6.19 ERA, his 21 Ks and 12 BBs over 32 IP isn't great, but not 6.19 ERA bad.
8. Lars Anderson, also having a pretty weird year, the first 2/3 of his split line are actually quite promising, .262/.397/.325. He's shown almost no power however with only 8 doubles to his name so far. He's striking out and walking quite a bit, but we'll take the patience as long as the power comes along shortly. Could make himself into a very good trade chip.
9. Kolbrin Vitek, putting together a solid little season in Salem so far with a .313/.375/.430 line with 5 doubles and 5 triples to his name but we know he has a little more power than that, hitting 4 HRs in 68 games last season. Word from the scouts is that he still doesn't look like a 3B, could see a move to the OF.
10. Josh Reddick, where have you been? Finally glad to report an excellent season. His .261/.358/.551 line shows the sort of patience we'd always hope he could develop, walking nearly more than he strikes out. His 10 HRs are just a cherry on top. Making up ground on Kalish, even if the more heralded of the two can't defend himself on the DL.
11. Ryan Westmoreland, no real news to report on this front.
12. Yamaico Navarro, currently on a poorly timed DL trip but owner of a .329/.436/.612 line over 85 ABs speaks for itself. Plus he's been seeing time in all the OF spots in order to take on the Bill Hall role from last year as he may be needed soon. The man is clearly ready for his shot and has a solid chance of nailing down the SS or 3B position if he makes use of his time well.
13. Che-Hsuan Lin, .262/.368/.331, still no power but still a lot of patience. I think we're going to be seeing these sort of lines from him for a while. No way of knowing if he'll be for real at a major league level until he gets a chance.
14. Oscar Tejeda, I think we all hoped for a little more from our 2010 breakout player, his .270/.336/.374 line isn't bad per-say but isn't great.
15. Garin Cecchini, short-season hasn't started yet.
16. Junichi Tazawa, makes his first rehab start from his 2010 surgery on Friday for Salem, looking forward to this.
17. Brandon Workman, heralded 2010 draft pick pitching to a 4.68 ERA, over 32.2 IP. 28 Ks to only 9 BBs is pretty promising however.
18. Luis Exposito, not making anyone feel better about our catcher situation with his .197/.253/.289 line.
19. Sean Coyle, making a name for himself with the Drive hitting to a .240/.381/.480 line with 13 XBH. Definitely making that bonus look worth it.
20. Juan Carlos Linares, the elder-statesman of our minor league system is currently on the DL. He's hitting .233/.281/.500, the power is certainly there but the patience definitely isn't. But relative to American baseball, he's young and has a lot to learn.
Michael McKenry, hitting .298/.412/.456 so far. I'm getting close to saying that this guy may be legit. We already have him, just clear a spot on the 40 man and give him a shot, it would be tough for him to be worse than what we have.
Michael Bowden, on his way to Boston but put up a fine 1.59 ERA with 28Ks in 22.2 IP in Pawtucket, seems to be embracing his new role in the bullpen.
Alex Hassan, always known for patience, now showing a ton of contact and power in Portland so far. Hitting .374/.484/.553 and leading all of AA in a couple categories right now, he has definitely put himself on the radar.
Will Middlebrooks, cooled down a little from a hot start but still hitting .307/.338/.520 with 5 HRs, a bat would be a welcome addition to his defense.
Alex Wilson, 3.57 ERA, 31 Ks, 11BBs in 35.1 IP.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, high ceiling prospect flashing the bat with a .287/.393/.496 line so far.
Bryce Brentz, he may be a little old for the level and that is certainly showing right now. His .365/.424/.660 slash line speaks for itself, Brentz is having an incredible year worthy of a first round pick. Due for a promotion any time now really.
Miles Head, overslot 2009 draftee hitting .324/.398/.613, his 9 HRs being grossly overshadowed by Brentz's incredible year.
Brandon Jacobs, hitting .353/.415/.552, another monster bat in that lineup.
Manny Rivera, his 3.32 ERA masks just how good the lefty has been so far. 44 Ks to only 8 BBs in 38 IP.
Overall it appears that our minor leagues is seeing an up year, as opposed to last year where most of our more heralded guys held steady or regressed some. A lot to look forward to in the mix here and there are certainly a few guys I missed that are off my radar still having good years.
Feel free to post your thoughts and comments on the first 25%, proof reading this I can see I did a lot of rainbows and butterflies sort of analysis but it is generally how I feel about the team so far. A lot are in decline but really I think Salty and Tek are the only ones with the histories to suggest that their poor play is for real.