Welcome to Over The Monster’s One Big Question series. For the next 40 (week)days, we will be trying to answer one important question for each player on the Red Sox 40-man roster. The goal is to find one interesting portion of each player’s game to watch for, whether that be in spring training or the early regular season. We’ll be going straight down the list on the team’s roster page, meaning we’ll be going in alphabetical order through each position group, starting with the pitchers. Today, we’re highlighting Steve Selsky.
The Question: Can Steve Selsky replicate Mike Carp’s impact from 2013?
Late-winter of 2013 was a strange time, looking back. We were all still reeling from the Bobby V era, and expectations for the upcoming season weren’t all that high. Of course, we all know what happened next. Before the World Series run, though, the team made an under-the-radar move in late February in which they acquired Mike Carp from the Mariners for cash. This wasn’t a Ruthian acquisition, but Carp had a significant impact on that championship squad. In late winter 2017, the Red Sox claimed Steve Selsky off waivers in an under-the-radar move. Can he replicate the effect Carp had on this team?
To start, I’ll acknowledge that this is far from a perfect comparison. For one thing, Carp was pegged for a bigger role than what Selsky can expect. In 2013, Carp didn’t spend one day in Pawtucket, as he was out of options by the time Boston acquired him. The same can not be said of Selsky, which is one of his appeals to the Red Sox. Beyond that, the team was in a much different place in 2013. Specifically, the outfield was not as secure. Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes formed an impressive platoon in left field that year, but that wasn’t exactly a sure thing before the year started. This year, the outfield is locked down with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi. Chris Young is a hell of a fourth outfielder, too. Selsky is clearly on the outside looking in, and will need some things to happen to get his chance.
With all that being said, if things take a certain turn, there’s an outside chance of Selsky making a legitimate impact on the Red Sox this season. If this were to happen, it would be a hell of a story. We’re not exactly talking about a blue chipper here, as Selsky was a 33rd round pick back in 2011 and has never really made a dent on the prospect scene. After putting together a solid minor-league career, the now-27-year-old finally made his major-league debut last season. He hit .314/.340/.471 in just 54 plate appearances. While that’s a strong line, it was boosted by a .519 batting average on balls in play that hid a 41 percent strikeout rate.
Despite that lackluster debut (in a tiny sample) that was helped out by an outrageously unsustainable BABIP, there is one obvious scenario that presents the most likely scenario in which Selsky can step up and make a Carp-like impact. That is if Chris Young gets hurt. The one big advantage Selsky brings to the table is that he’s right-handed and plays for a team that is very left-handed in the outfield. Bradley and Benintendi are obviously lefties. There’s also Brock Holt, who would likely slide in as the primary fourth outfielder against righties. However, Young is expected to play a prominent role when southpaws are on the mound, and they need a righty to take over there. Selsky can be that guy.
Looking at last year’s splits, you’ll see that Selsky had a 282 wRC+, which is incredible until you realize that it came in eight plate appearances. However, his minor-league splits from 2016 tell a similar story. He posted a .990 OPS against Triple-A lefties as opposed to a .745 OPS against righties. While the splits weren’t quite as extreme in previous years, it’s more likely than not that he’d have more success if the majority of his plate appearances were to come against southpaws. Luckily, that’s also his most obvious route for playing time.
While playing into platoon splits was also a big reason for Carp’s success — he rarely faced lefties in 2013 — they are very different hitters. Carp, of course, was a straight-up power hitter. He did some other things well, but the big swings were what he was in the majors for. Selsky doesn’t have much power, despite what his solid .157 ISO from his MLB debut may suggest. Throughout the minors, he posted modest power numbers. Instead, he relied on strong bat-to-ball skills to single his way to high BABIPs along with an ability to draw walks. In a Red Sox lineup that has plenty of big sticks, simply getting on base would have a similar impact to Carp’s power in 2013.
Then, there’s the defensive side of things. Over his professional career, Selsky has played all over the outfield, although most of it has come in the corners. He does have a bit of minor-league experience in the center field, and has even played there quite a bit this spring. That wouldn’t be his job in the majors, though. All three of Boston’s outfielders could be good center fielders, and regardless of the injury that’d pave the way for Selsky, they’d have a better option there. That would leave Selsky most likely to man left field and DH, a very Carp-like position to be in.
In all likelihood, Selsky is going to make little-to-no impact on the Red Sox. This will be especially true if Bryce Brentz finds a way to hang around, although that seems unlikely. However, we were probably saying the same thing about Carp back in 2013. Baseball is weird like that, and unexpected players find a way to contribute every year. It’d probably take an injury to Chris Young, opening up a platoon situation, but there’s an outside chance Steve Selsky becomes a major story in 2017.