Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Tzu-Wei Lin.
What a year it was for Tzu-Wei Lin. He certainly didn’t become a superstar, and he didn’t show any indication that he ever will, but he started the year as an afterthought in the Boston farm system and ended up playing his way to a major-league, fan favorite type of role thanks to strong play in the minors and injuries on the major-league roster. While, at the end of the day, he didn’t spend all that much time on the major-league roster, he was healthy for most of the year and had plenty of positives by the time 2017 was over.
First and foremost among those positives was his role in stabilizing the third base position for the Red Sox and providing a spark to an offense that desperately needed it. Essentially, he was Eduardo Nuñez before Eduardo Nuñez got to the Red Sox. If you recall, when Lin was first called up to the Red Sox in late June, third base was an absolute disaster. They had been looking for some sort of spark from a number of different sources all year. Lin wasn’t a superstar by any means, but he provided a solid bat with strong defense. He was something like a Plan K, so that he provided the team with anything at all was a plus. From his initial call-up through the end of the first half, Lin hit .333/.435/.436 in 47 plate appearances.
Before any of that happened, Lin spent the majority of the first three months of the year in Double-A, and this is where he really came to life. The 23-year-old has been in the Red Sox farm system since 2012, but he hadn’t really showed much of anything as a professional heading into 2017. There’s always been a strong glove and some baserunning abilities, but he was going to need to improve at the plate to ever reach the majors. He did that and then some in Portland. Thanks to some mechanical changes and adjustments to his approach, Lin received 184 plate appearances with the SeaDogs and hit .302/.379/.491. This performance caught some eyes even before his call-up, and while it was certainly a surprise he got the call from Portland to Boston, he proved that it wasn’t much of a fluke.
Finally, there was his defense in the infield that helped the Red Sox. While the atrocious offense the team received from third base all year long got most of the headlines, and for good reason, they also couldn’t really find strong defense at the position either. Deven Marrero certainly showed off some good leather, but besides him Lin was the best defensive player. He also defended second base well when Dustin Pedroia couldn’t play.
Although Lin’s 2017 was infinitely better than any of us could have imagined it would be before the season started, it wasn’t a perfect year. There were certainly some negatives to his season, and it starts with his performance at Triple-A. If you were to argue that the spark he provided in the majors was a fluke, you’d first point to what he did in Triple-A. This is where he landed after the Red Sox demoted him in mid-July. After hitting so well in Double-A and being so solid in the majors, we were looking for more strong hitting in Pawtucket. Instead, he hit just .227/.283/.319 in 154 plate appearances against Triple-A pitching. Now, his combined performance in Double-A and the majors was a larger sample size, so it’s more than fair to look at that as the story of his season, but we can’t simply write off how poorly he played in Triple-A.
Beyond that, there were some clear flaws in his game when he was in the majors. Granted, some of this is things that we knew would be the case even with the best-case scenario, but they can’t be ignored. For one thing, Lin struck out a lot against major-league pitching in 2017, which came as a bit of a surprise. Even before his breakout in Double-A, Lin had always shown an ability to make contact on a consistent basis. In the majors, though, he struck out just under 26 percent of the time. The good news is that everything points to that rate improving, which will help cancel out some of the regression that is surely coming to his batting average on balls in play. Furthermore, Lin hit for almost no power, finishing his MLB run with an .071 Isolated Power. This isn’t as much of a concern, because he’s never been a power hitter and even at his best he won’t be that guy. A few more doubles and triples would be nice, but his game will never be to hit for extra bases.
The Big Question
N/A. I didn’t even consider considering Lin for a possible major-league contributor in 2017.
Looking Ahead to 2018
While Lin came out of nowhere in 2017, there are now some expectations for the infielder looking ahead to 2018. Granted, nobody expects him to be anything close to a star, but it is expected that he will play a role for the team next year. This became even more true the day Dustin Pedroia went under the knife. If the Red Sox do indeed lean on internal options to hold down second base in the veteran’s absence, Lin will be among those to play the position. He should mostly serve as a utility man, and don’t be surprised to see him get more outfield time in spring training next year as they potentially look to replace Brock Holt on the roster.