USA TODAY Sports
Looking at some of the positive developments over four weeks of Spring Training including Jose Iglesias, Jackie Bradley, John Farrell, the starting pitching staff, and Mike Napoli.
After writing an article here last week about how Spring Training stats don't mean anything (and yes, I'm sticking with that conclusion), I want to look a bit at some Spring Training stats. Not in a specifically predictive way, mind you. But in a generalized where-are-the-Red-Sox-going sort of way. Maybe Spring Training performances is a better way of saying it. But it's too late I've already written stats and until someone figures out how to put a button on my keyboard that changes the things I've already written Spring stats will have to stay.
It's super early in Spring Training -- I know this because the Royals have a really good record -- so we can't draw any large-scale conclusions out of the numbers, but there have been some positive developments that it might be worth noting. And if it ends up not being worth noting we'll refund your money, no questions asked!
1. Marc and I talked a bit about Jose Iglesias on the most recent episode of the OTM podcast. In case you aren't aware, Iglesias is the other-worldly defensive shortstop with the banana bat. (Bats made out of bananas aren't good for hitting.) So seeing Iglesias get six hits in 20 at-bats with four of them going for extra bases (three doubles and a homer) is vaguely promising. That's from a guy who had three extra-base hits over 68 at-bats last season. The general Spring Training caveats apply, but I've always believed in Iglesias in the sense that I think he can hit enough to force his way into the lineup. He's never going to be a slugger or even a particularly patient player (which is a shame because some plate patience and he probably would have got the starting job this season), but he has a nice little line drive stroke and, believe it or not, quick wrists. He could spray the ball around a bit if he could ever figure out this whole hitting thing. To his credit he spent the entirety of the off-season working towards improving his hitting so at least he recognizes the enormity of the problem and is working to correct it. Four extra-base hits in Spring Training aren't going to be a panacea for his career, but it's good to see a small step in the right direction.
2. Everyone's talking about Jackie Bradley. And why not? He's clearly got skills. Also his name kinda rolls off the tongue. Jackie Bradley Jackie Bradley Jackie Bradley Jackie Bradley. I wrote about Bradley last week. He won't supplant Jacoby Ellsbury barring injury anytime before the trade deadline, but the watching the guy hit and field, especially field, makes you eager to hit the fast forward button to 2015 and watch him play center on a cool June evening at Fenway. It'll happen. Bradley is for real. We didn't need his 10 hits in 20 at-bats to tell us that either, but they were a nice reminder that the Sox have something here. We're all just going to have to wait a bit longer than maybe we want to.
3. If the most pleasant surprise this spring hasn't been Bradley or Iglesias, it's been the play of the starting pitching staff. Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster, and Clay Buchholz have yet to give up a run while Jon Lester has given up just one in nine innings of work. Sure, you can nitpick at their stats (Lester has walked four while striking out only six) but we're talking about just nine innings for him and far fewer for the other guys. It's too early to talk peripherals and also Spring Training! Mostly it's just nice to see Red Sox starters having some success on the mound. It's nice to see a Red Sox starter pitch well even if it is just Spring Training. It feels like it's been ages since that happened. And while it likely means very little to the ultimate outcome of the 2013 Red Sox, well, a bit of decent pitching can't hurt either.
4. The Red Sox brought in John Farrell for many reasons, but we have to believe one of the prime ones was to get the starting staff in order. The success or failure of Lester and to a slightly smaller extent Buchholz will be huge factors in the way this season turns out for Boston. It's still early (I think I've written that 12 times so far) but there haven't been any huge problems yet. They're all healthy and performing well (see point three). Doubront reported out of shape again but did you notice how it didn't turn into a huge thing? It was covered in the media but only for a bit and then it was dropped. That wasn't because the media was being nice, it was because the team handled the situation properly. That's directly attributable to the manager. There will probably be drama, this is the Red Sox after all, but it's nice to see the team run by a competent coaching staff all pulling on the same side of the rope.
5. After the hullabaloo over Mike Napoli's hip, you had to wonder about his ability to play chess let alone first base. And we still have to wonder about that because we're only four weeks into Spring Training. But the fact that everything has gone well for Napoli health-wise has to be encouraging. He's had MRIs and x-rays and gamma rays and tampa rays and probably other kinds of rays too, but so far none has found anything particularly alarming. Napoli hitting three homers so far hasn't hurt either. The Red Sox are kind of in a pickle at first base after trading Adrian Gonzalez. There aren't any guys in their minor league system who project as above average major league hitters at first base (sorry, Travis Shaw) and the free agent market will likely be barren at the position over the next few seasons. There are other ways to procure a first baseman, but the easiest and cheapest solution is for Mike Napoli to be healthy, love Boston, love hitting in Fenway Park, and want to stay. So far at least we've got one of those. Hitting three homers in Spring Training won't mean anything if his hip starts barking in mid-June, but for now, with just four weeks gone in the pre-season, it's all we have. I, for one, will take it.