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Every year no-name players surprise, impress, and then fall dramatically back to Earth. We recognize this year's best.
For a little more than two months in 2009, Nick Green was very good. Taking over at shortstop very early in the year for the injured Jed Lowrie, Green not only held down the fort at short, but seemed to be making a legitimate play for future consideration at the spot given his impressive offensive numbers and some seriously flashy defense. That Julio Lugo was there to provide contrast on Green's days off didn't hurt, either.
On June 21st, Nick Green stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning of a 5-5 game against the Atlanta Braves. He took the first pitch of the inning, and wrapped it around Pesky's Pole for a walkoff. It was the highest Nick Green would go, with his OPS reaching a mark of .804 and with a decent (small, but not miniscule) sample behind it. Green would pick up two hits in his next eight at bats, and then zero in his next 15. By the time July ended, he was hitting .240/.304/.378.
Every year on any number of teams someone will come from nowhere. A career that was headed nowhere will suddenly shine with possibility. Very rarely the result will be a Cliff Lee like emergence, but most of the time it's just going to be Nick Green.
On bad teams more players tend to get opportunities, leading to more random runs of luck resulting in fleeting Nick Green-like success. The Red Sox were no exception, and three players really stand out as the top candidates for this less-than-prestigious award.
In late June, I commented that Daniel Nava was playing like an All-Star. And, as insane as it sounds now, he was. For 150 at bats, Daniel Nava was truly top class. He hit for average, he was terrific at working a count and drawing walks, and if he didn't hit for power, he still put up enough extra bases to get the job done. He even showed a much-improved glove after looking like an incompetent if hard-working left fielder in his last stint with the team
And then he hit .133/.257/.217 in 60 July at bats. That his performances at the end of the year were better is really only to comment on how low he set the bar in that month.
The thing is, Daniel Nava never really found the ground completely. At .243/.352/.390, he's still a pretty serviceable player, if not the guy you want to have starting in left field. Beyond that, though, I'm not even convinced that that's the player he is. The fact that his decline coincided so closely with his wrist injury--one which ultimately required surgery--is enough for me to wonder if Daniel Nava is Nick Green, or Jed Lowrie?
Oh Pedro. The love affair between Red Sox nation and the young infielder began in spring training as Ciriaco compiled hit after hit, smoldered all through Mike Aviles' depressing decline in the middle months, and then was relit with a vengeance by 10 hits in three of his first four games with the team. That they came against the Yankees and Rays made it all the better.
Calls for Ciriaco to be the starting SS in 2013, however, started to die in the last month, because as solid as Pedro had been when pitchers weren't entirely sure how to approach him (especially batting with the likes of Dustin Pedroia behind him), it did not take long for the league to figure out this no-discipline, no-power infielder. A .217/.250/.272 line in September dragged his season-as-a-whole down, and has left the Red Sox wondering what they're going to do about shortstop all over again.
Like Daniel Nava, however, Ciriaco still retains some utility. If he can put up the same season numbers in the future, then he's actually not that bad at shortstop, especially given his solid-looking glove and ability to steal bases when needed. If nothing else he can provide a good bench option. But a diamond in the rough is perhaps overstating it.
Hey, remember when Scott Podsednik was hitting over .400 through about 45 at bats with the team? Remember how he still had that number up around .370 through late August?
Well, he still ended the season with an average over .300, but he managed to make even that look pretty bad. I mean, it takes some serious skill to turn a .302 average into a .300 wOBA and 82 wRC+. If nothing else Podsednik deserves some kind of award for subverting old-time statistics quite so impressively.
Of the three, Podsednik has the least real value. But that brings us to the debate: does he fit the spirit of the award? You may have noticed by now that this achievement hasn't exactly been well defined, and as with the MVP, that can engender some really aggravating conversation about what the award should mean. Does Scott Podsednik get the nod because his fall was the greatest? Or is he overlooked because, as a veteran with many years behind him that made it clear the early season performance was a complete aberration, he doesn't fit the Nick Green mold?
I'll let you guys decide.
And the inaugural winner of the Nick Green Falling to Earth Award is...
Daniel Nava (95 votes)
Pedro Ciriaco (125 votes)
Scott Podsednik (33 votes)
253 total votes