We warned you. Just last week, we told you that some hack was going to start writing columns more concerned about column inches and word counts than cogent takes. That it’d be about inane, unknowable things, like whether or not the Red Sox heretofore historically historic hitting and/or maybe-mediocre-enough-to-win-a-World-Series pitching was sustainable. That they’d do it in a column so gimmicked out it barely recognizable as baseball writing when it’s done.
I am that hack.
But, with players like Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley, Jr., who have exceeded expectations and big signings like Pablo Sandoval and David Price, who have decidedly not, it felt as good as time as any to introduce one of the most well-worn tropes in all of wrestling writing to a new audience: whether these players are being pushed or buried.
In wrestling, when a performer is pushed -- given more screentime, in higher profile storylines, while usually being scripted to win against increasingly more powerful/popular opponents -- or buried (the exact opposite of being pushed) -- it’s done by a booker playing God, like Vince McMahon. But in baseball, player performance is controlled by a higher power: the Baseball Gods.
Get it? Good.
Without further ado, the first ever game of Red Sox Bury or Push:
After proclaiming Porcello as the Sixth Man of the Year award winner this season during our First Annual Over the Monster Awarding of Award Show Awards Awards Show for Excellence in Red Soxing – we’re working on an acronym better than OtMAoASAASfEiRS – I feel pretty confident in declaring myself as one of the greatest prognosticators of our time. But this level of quality for Porcello – his ERA+ of 127 is the best of his career by 13 points and he's constantly missing bats – was far beyond even what I, the Great Bondini, saw coming.
It’s not like this is entirely surprising, of course, as Porcello – at least according to my friend from high school Brian, and also scouting reports – has always seemed like he has the potential to be something in the vicinity of this. He’s posted ERA+ over 100 twice, but has long struggled with something strongly resembling control issues as well as the Tigers' infield defense. That he’s posting a K/BB of 4.1 and nearly three more strikeouts per nine (8.6) than his career average (5.9) is remarkable, if also a bit unsettling. But this, coupled with what’s a pretty standard (at least for him) FIP, indicate that most of his peripherals may mean someone entering their prime after learning how to stop walking so many people instead of a strikeout fueled fugue state.
Unfortunately, if we are being totally honest with ourselves, it’s unlikely, but possible, that he’ll be able to keep it all going. Unlikely, if only because it’s unclear exactly how long he can keep striking out batters but not walking them.
Now, if Porcello just happened to have found Jesus/the strikezone this off season, then Baseball Gods bless him.
Are the Baseball Gods Pushing or Burying Rick Porcello? If not a Roman Reigns, than at the very least, a AJ Styles level push that could see Porcello be a borderline (BORDERLINE) All-Star.
Jackie! Bradley! Jr.!
Like Porcello’s, the career of J!B!J! has always straddled the line between "disappointing so far" and "way better than people give him credit for." He’s coming off of unequivocally his best effort ever, even in truncated form, when after two middling years scuffling, Bradley began to show signs last season of being good enough to belong in the majors. And after the tire fire that was his 2014 season – an OPS+ of 49(!) in 127 games might have been the highlight --- that kind of thing may have been the difference between him playing in Pawtucket (or worse), and presiding over centerfield at Fenway.
Unlike Porcello, however, the peripherals surrounding Bradley indicate that maybe (just maybe) this is (very slightly) more smoke and mirrors than potential becoming manifest. A BABIP of .392 is essentially the definition of unsustainable, a full 82 points higher than his career best and if not off-the-charts, then on the very edge of them. Now, FanGraphs projections of Bradley seem more unkind than the eye test would corroborate – they have him hitting for a *significantly* lower average, and striking out way way more than he has ever has before – but BABIP don’t lie. There’s just no way that a single player can continue to get that lucky through an entire season.
But, in the same breath, given his skill set and the way this team rakes and the presence of Fenway Park's BABIP-inflating nature, it’s not something that will send him back crashing back down to earth. It just might knock him out of the stratosphere.
Are the Baseball Gods Pushing or Burying Jackie! Bradley! Jr.!? This is the kind of push a guy gets when they think they want him to be hotshotted to a World’s title, but then decide halfway through that maybe they like him more in the midcard. So, if you happen to be a fan of both J!B!J! and, say, Kevin Owens, you’ll probably want to strap in for what will be a long, but fun, season that may end up with you slightly underwhelmed but satisfied overall.
Now, sure, we may be a little meaner to David Price in the Palace of Wisdom -- that’s what I like to call the desk fort I write this in (#OnlyGodCanJudgeMe) -- than he probably deserves, but he has also been pretty terrible since signing with the team. He’s riding along with a 6.00 ERA -- a full 2.25 earned runs higher than his career 3.35 -- that his opponent’s .379 BABIP only partially explains.
Although he’s striking more hitters out, he’s done so while allowing significantly more men on base and not getting them off before letting up a run. To wit: all those extra baserunners have seen their presence count thanks to Price's horrific 58 percent strand rate, the worst of his career by 10 points. But given that’s so wildly outside normal -- according to FanGraphs, the league average is somewhere in the 70-72% range -- it’s perhaps the one bit of ancillary info that Price has outside of those wild BABIP numbers he’s facing.
What’s genuinely concerning is that he’s also begun to pitch-shift, focusing less on the four-seam, and splitting the difference between an increased emphasis on his cutter (which he’s throwing at a 22 percent clip, roughly 50 percent more than he ever has.) While it’s not the end of the world, Price is looking more and more like a different pitcher -- with a full two miles per hour off his fastball -- who isn’t the ace they had (presumably) hoped for.
Are the Baseball Gods Pushing or Burying David Price? Having said all that, it’s almost impossible to imagine him continue to carry an ERA of six, and he's already supposedly made progress fixing a mechanical flaw that Dustin Pedroia spotted for him. In the end, 2016 won't look like vintage Price, but the Sox are doing pretty okay without that guy so far. There's a chance he shows up the rest of the way if he's truly fixed, and given how some other rotation pieces are working out, they'll need that guy eventually. So, he'll get his push back to main event status in the same way John Cena did during his supposed worst year ever. The difference being that Price actually suffered a bit before returning to the top.
Where do we start? He’s already out for the season, has nearly been ran out of town, and is almost entirely out of options. He’s essentially been barred from starting at third base ever again in Boston, but it’s hard to imagine the Sox being willing to pay him as much money as he’s making to spell Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw, or being a back-of-the-pack designated hitter. A significant portion of Sandoval’s value was tied up in his usually better than serviceable, occasionally glorious defensive play, and him being shuffled off that mortal coil has left him as a man without a country, position, or any real standing in the clubhouse.
This, coupled with the genuine disdain many members of THE NATION have for him, it’s hard to imagine that Panda is long for this world. Or, at least the Red Sox roster.
Are the Baseball Gods Pushing or Burying Pablo Sandoval? It’s not that Panda is a good guy, and it’s not that he’s a bad guy. He’s just A guy. A guy who probably needs to get some help, and definitely isn’t capable of being on this professional baseball team right now.
Like so much The Ryback, a few solid years of burial by the baseball gods may finally send him over the edge in oblivion/the Nippon Baseball League. And, like The Ryback and the WWE, the breakup between the Sox and Panda will probably be more conscious uncoupling than messy break up.
We'll probably miss the Big Guy, even before he's gone.