Shane Victorino is set to return to action today. This is a good thing. While his contract came under some scrutiny when he was first signed this past winter, and though he's struggled to tap into any of the power he's shown in years past, Victorino has endeared himself to Red Sox fans so far this season with a combination of timely hitting and tremendous defense.
Still, there's no denying that the Red Sox have gotten some pretty great results from his replacements this past week. The immediate effect of Victorino's return, at least on a game-to-game basis, will be a loss of playing time for both Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava having clearly earned the starting role in left field. Since Victorino's last game on April 24th, this duo has combined for 11 hits in 32 at bats with five walks, three doubles, and three homers.
Of course, a lot of those numbers come with the by no means small asterisk of "this is Mike Carp". It's been an incredibly fun ride so far, and it's always possible that Carp is the proverbial diamond in the rough who was just waiting to break out. But it would be putting much too much stock in just 28 at bats to start lamenting the loss of Carp in favor of Victorino.
Even with that in mind, though, it's hard to imagine this won't represent some level of offensive hit for the Red Sox. How much of one, though? Well, the numbers don't look good. Carp has been so good, and Victorino so mediocre, that having Carp's bat (producing at the level it has) over Victorino's over just the course of the season to date would have actually been worth an extra two wins by Fangraphs' valuations. That is, for the record, a simply ridiculous number given that the season has only been going for a month.
It's a safe bet, however, to say that some of that would be made up for with defense. Carp is a bad defender in left, Shane Victorino a good defender in right--a position which is much more difficult than left field when playing in Fenway. Daniel Nava is also probably better suited to left field than right to boot, probably providing a marginal boost over the straight difference in defensive ability between Carp and Victorino.
The Red Sox offense, as constructed, also seems uniquely well-suited to shrug off this switch in personnel. Obviously there's no situation where removing a .622 wOBA for a .307 wOBA improves an offense, but given how Boston's works, it really might not hurt all that much. After all, Victorino has struggled to find his power swing thus far in 2013, but has shown no lack of ability to get on base or pick up singles. With the combination of Mike Napoli and David Ortiz not far behind him and a speedy Jacoby Ellsbury in front of him, his lack of extra base hits should be mitigated. Daniel Nava is no slouch in the power department either so far this year, which should make up for the lack of Carp magic if he slots in behind Ortiz and Napoli as expected.
And of course, Mike Carp isn't leaving. Nor is Jonny Gomes, for that matter. Instead, each one will be on the bench, making the occasional start against a lefty (for Gomes) or to get Mike Napoli or David Ortiz or even Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino a day off. There are starts to be had for both, and when the game is on the line and the bottom of the lineup is coming up to bat in the ninth, having them available to pinch hit is certainly a nice bonus. To put it simply, having too many options is a fantastic problem to have.