The Red Sox find themselves in a very strange position at this All-Star break. It’s certainly been a disappointing season, but the mediocrity across the league and the additional playoff spot has made it so contention isn’t too far away. Over the last month or so, it’s undeniable that they have at least launched themselves back into the conversation. Sure, they still need mostly everything to go right from here on out, but it’s a much better position than they were in at the start of June. In terms of pure entertainment, the last few weeks has been far and away the funnest stretch of the year. As we all predicted, Alejandro De Aza found himself right in the middle of all of it.
The outfielder has now played in 31 games for the Red Sox, racking up 103 plate appearances. Over that time, he has a .323/.359/.573 slash line with a 154 OPS+. Only 18 players in all of baseball had a better OPS in the month of June than De Aza. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that these numbers aren’t going to stick around. He’s currently sporting a .368 batting average on balls in play since coming to Boston. Even though he has a .338 career BABIP, he’s likely still benefitting from good fortune. It’s very easy to focus solely on the fact that he’s not this good, and at some point he’s going to look much, much worse. Even if it’s practical to do so, it’s not very much fun, and it’s not fair to De Aza. He deserves some appreciation.
>Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Even if he’s playing over his head, he’s been a completely legitimate part of this team’s turnaround. The 31-year-old has set a different kind of tone with an aggressive approach, swinging at just about half of the pitches he’s seen. While he’s not walking as much, he’s making good contact that has results in a .250 Isolated Power. It’s also a strategy that has worked its way to other spots in the lineup, including Mookie Betts’.
De Aza came aboard prior to the June series in which the Red Sox hosted the Athletics. The Red Sox are 18-16 since that time, and they’ve lost all three games in which he’s been on the bench. There’s some serious flaws in those kind numbers, of course, but it’s a representation of how much better they’ve been since he’s been here. It’s hard to say with complete certainty that he’s been the catalyst for the stronger play, but he definitely hasn’t hurt the cause.
The future is a bit uncertain for De Aza. He’s been playing a lot of right field lately, but the return of Dustin Pedroia could throw a wrench in that plan. Brock Holt will need somewhere to play after being displaced from second base, and right field and first base would make the most sense. If they continue to give Mike Napoli the benefit of the doubt, it’ll come at De Aza’s expense.
Even if the Red Sox fall back off and true contention becomes even more unlikely, De Aza’s impressive run wouldn’t be for naught. Despite just being a cheap waiver pick up, it’s now entirely possible they can trade him somewhere for a prospect better than Joe Gunkel, the guy they sent to Baltimore to acquire De Aza. That’s almost the worst-case scenario, which is something nobody could have imagined when they first made the pick up.
Sometimes, it’s hard to take of the analytical glasses and just appreciate what a player has done, but it’s often unfair to them. This is no different for De Aza. He’s clearly not as good as he’s been for the last month, but in that time he was truly one of the best hitters in baseball. It’s rare we get to see that kind of surge from a player of his caliber, and it’s part of what makes baseball great. You don’t see career role players set up this kind of team resurgence in other sports. Sure, looking forward to the second half, it’s entirely fair to point out that they probably can’t count on that kind of production from De Aza. It’s a true statement, and something the Red Sox surely need to keep in mind. As a fan, though, that doesn’t mean you can’t look back at what he’s done and appreciate it. He’s a major reason we can still dream about this team making a near-miraculous run to the postseason.