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The Red Sox were terrible in September, but there are things to learn from that.
The Red Sox had a pitiful September, but given the injuries they were dealing with, and the talent sent westward, it's understandable that it would happen. It's now Boston's off-season already, meaning it's time to both reflect and look forward. What did the post-Adrian Gonzalez Red Sox do in September, and what did we learn from that? Let's check in on the five major items we took away from the last month-plus of the season, first on offense, and then from the pitching.
1: The Red Sox need help on offense. Dustin Pedroia hit .317/.385/.508 after Adrian Gonzalez was sent to the Dodgers. The Sox as a whole put together a .237/.284/.346 line in the same time frame. The American League average offense, during the same time? .254/.318/.406. The Red Sox weren't even close, and only one player besides Pedroia surpassed that on an individual level -- Mauro Gomez hit .269/.333/.433 in his 27 games and 67 at-bats.
Whether Boston needs to bring in more hitting is another question entirely, though. Red Sox third basemen hit .241/.271/.348 from August 24 onward, but none of those third basemen were Will Middlebrooks, who will play the position in 2013. Middlebrooks hit .288/.325/.509 in 75 games during his rookie campaign -- whereas those who combined to replace him in the lineup were well, well below-average for the position, Middlebrooks was roughly 20 percent above. Red Sox designated hitters put up a .241/.318/.368 line after Gonzalez was dealt, but presumably, David Ortiz will be back in a Boston uniform in 2013. Ortiz was leading the AL in OPS and slugging before an Achilles injury ended his season -- even if he's not an exact replica of that iteration of Ortiz, he'll still provide a necessary boost of offense in the lineup.
There are still issues, but they come down to how much you believe Jacoby Ellsbury, further removed from dislocating his shoulder, will hit next season. Or, if Cody Ross had a tough time in the last month-plus because opposing pitchers had no reason to give him anything to hit, considering there was no one who could hurt them in the lineup after him. Or, if either Ryan Kalish or Daniel Nava can produce in a way that makes them competent left fielders -- it won't be hard to top the .239/.274/.319 Boston left fielders struggled to get to after Carl Crawford was shut down and dealt.
Do the Red Sox need another hitter, perhaps a first baseman or corner outfielder? It's very likely. But this run as one of the league's worst offenses was a temporary occurrence, one that will be rectified simply by being healthy.
2: Pedro Ciriaco isn't the answer. Unless the question is "who this team's candidate for the Nick Green Award For Falling To Earth?"Ciriaco might have developed an overnight reputation as a Yankee Killer thanks to putting up a 1054 OPS in his first week with the Sox, a stretch that included seven hits and four RBI against New York. But, following that explosive start, he put together a .273/.294/.368 line, making him more Red Sox Killer than anything else.
Ciriaco is taking up a 40-man roster spot, and while his glove is great, it's hard to be a utility infielder if you can't create any offense, for a team that already has plenty of options for the same job around.
3: Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway might not be ready. But, it might not matter. Lavarnway has little left to learn at Triple-A, if anything, and Boston doesn't have a backup catcher for 2013 just yet, unless it turns out to be him. It would cut into his overall playing time, but he would catch major-league pitching whenever he plays, face major-league pitchers, and work with a big-league coaching staff. There might be more value in that than in an extra 30 games or so played at Pawtucket. He limped to a .164/.214/.267 line after the trade with the Dodgers, but his bat has shown promise in the past: more at-bats against the pitchers who have stymied him might be his ticket to learning how to improve.
Iglesias struggled even more, at .118/.200/.191, but played Jose Iglesias-esque defense. His .137 batting average on balls in play is to blame to a degree, but his lack of ability to counter big-league pitchers with offensive talent is at fault, as well -- that low BABIP didn't come entirely out of poor luck. The thing is, Iglesias' main competition for the shortstop gig is Mike Aviles, who had his own problems on offense: from May onward, Aviles put together a .242/.272/.350 line. He had his own high-quality defense to boast about, but the eventual job might go down to who impresses in spring training, assuming the Sox aren't totally turned off by Iglesias given his September.
4: The James Loney Experiment should probably end. Playing James Loney often after acquiring him in late-August made a lot of sense. He was a former top prospect, one who had failed to fulfill his offensive potential, but had hit well away from Dodger Stadium over the years. He would be a free agent at year's end, and Boston had a void at first: seeing if Loney was a potential candidate to play there in 2013 was worth the try, in case he ended up looking capable of something akin to peak Casey Kotchman. (It's hard to remember now, but that wouldn't have been a bad thing.) Loney hit .230/.264/.310, striking out very little as he normally does, but failing to hit for power or draw many walks just the same. A minor-league deal, with a non-roster invite to spring training, wouldn't be the worst thing. But Loney can likely get more elsewhere, meaning Boston should walk away.
5: Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus should prove useful. De Jesus is a utility player, one out of options, with better minor-league numbers than Pedro Ciriaco. Sands is a first baseman and outfielder, and the Sox might need one of those -- or both -- in the coming year. Clearing away salary isn't the only thing the Sox got out of that deal with the Dodgers.