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The Flyby - Surprised. Not Disappointed.

I’m actually kind of amazed here. Everyone managed to be positive! This is a great day for OTM, and for mankind.

Chicago Cubs v Boston Red Sox
Hanley and John Farrell. They are probably thinking “Oh man, that ball was crushed.” by one of the surprises of the team, take your pick. It’s been a fun first month.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It’s no secret Red Sox fans are excellent, but we have this one little habit that can get very annoying - we can be extremely pessimistic. Despite winning three World Series in the 21st century - tied with the Even Year Giants in championships - there’s always an expectation to do better the next season.

Years like 2011 were crushing because we were so close. Years like 2012 don’t exist. For every magical year, there’s another year where falling short is met with disappointment. There are chants of “Fire Farrell!” whenever the Sox lose a singular close game, despite the fact he’s got a .524 winning percentage in Boston (consider that Tony LaRussa, a HoF level manager, had a career .536 winning percentage over 33 years).

A player who doesn’t pull his weight becomes outcast. We all remember Carl Crawford. A city that is rooting for you can quickly turn against you if you don’t produce in any meaningful fashion in a hurry. David Price is quickly gaining a lot of that notoriety among a small subsection of the fan base, despite pitching rather well, simply because he isn’t as good as he used to be.

That’s why it’s so shocking to see us as a whole be incredibly positive. Rather than focus on negative surprises (like our collective inability to play third base), you chose to focus on who did a good job. I know I said “Let’s try being positive!” but that wasn’t a requirement by any means. You guys did that on your own. So good job, sincerely.

We have a new frequent contributor to FanPost Friday in gosawks. This week, he picked Chris Sale as his most surprising April talent, and it’s not really hard to see why.

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins
I’m so happy to get to watch this guy as often as we do. Can we extend him for five-thousand years?
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

He was expected to be a stable ace from day one and be easily the best pitcher on a staff featuring two Cy Young award winners. Yet I don’t think anybody expected what we’ve seen to this point. This FanPost was written before Sale’s worst start of the season against the Minnesota Twins, but it’s no less accurate.

Sale gave up 4 runs on 4 hits, and 3 walks, over 6 innings, while striking out 10 batters. Of those 10 strikeouts, 7 were in the first three innings. Things fell apart in the fifth inning, but that really wasn’t Sale’s fault.

To recap that inning... it all began with a Chris Gimenez hit by pitch. The pitch looked like it probably got all jersey, which technically does count as a hit by pitch, but it’s about as ticky tack of a HBP as you are going to see. Then Eddie Rosario looped a weak one that fell between everybody. Then Byron Buxton laid down a sacrifice bunt that Deven Marrero couldn’t even come close to handling, even though he was in bunt defense from the outset. Like seriously, watch that play and tell me Deven Marrero did everything he could, because I’m going to call you a liar.

Something called Ehire Adrianza finally gave us an out with a sacrifice fly, but Mookie can’t do everything, and a run scored. Robbie Grossman walked, Jorge Polanco had another weak single that happened to fall in between everybody (which scored two runs). Then Sandy Leon forgot how to be a catcher (the thing he’s been hired to be), and gave up a pretty easy pitch to the backstop, which moved the runners out of double play depth.

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins
Sandy Leon would make up for his gaffe, by crushing a two run home run. Whether you are in the Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez camp, it’s fun to root for a guy who can hit home runs like he can.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Miguel Sano predictably got walked, just surprisingly not intentionally. Kennys Vargas hit a fly ball that got us our second out, and a run scored. Sale would give up 4 runs, before retiring Eduardo Escobar with a strikeout.

He would come back out for the sixth inning, and get through it quickly, but the damage was done. Chris Sale’s shortest outing in a Sox uniform would conclude, as he would go only six innings. Bloops, bleeders, and terrible defense from Marrero and Leon, led to Sale giving up four earned runs (I’ll never understand why it isn’t just two, but it is what it is).

The Red Sox would win the game, and not a single person would emerge thinking Chris Sale did anything all that wrong. He was missing location, but he was still pitching well enough, which just goes to show the expectations we have of him.

Even when he wasn’t “on”, he was very good. I know the list is supposed to be about April surprises, but I’m going to count his early May stats as well to illustrate the point I want to make about Sale. He has a 1.92 ERA, 1.43 FIP, and 2.28 xFIP. In 51.2 innings, he has struck out a league leading 73 batters, while only walking 11. His per nine stats are excellent - 5.2 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 1.9 BB/9, and 12.7 K/9.

We haven’t had a pitcher this dominant since Pedro Martinez. And he might be better (Ed. Note: Nah.). Pedro’s best season, his 2000 campaign closed with the respective per nine stats - 5.3/0.7/1.3/11.8. Mind, Pedro played in the Steroid Era, while Sale has made his bread during a time of great pitcher dominance. But the point should be clear.

Red Sox v Angels Game 2
Chris Sale is fortunate to not be pitching in the Steroid Era, but with how he’s pitching, he reminds me a lot of Pedro Martinez, a player who dominated that very era.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

We were expecting an ace. We weren’t expecting a left handed Pedro Martinez. And for that, Sale has been a genuine surprise.

On to Lansdowne Street shared some picture of a fish. It had something to do with a joke that fell super flat, as evidenced by his poll question. One person apparently thought it was funny, but that might have been his own vote. I don’t really care to investigate it either way.

Bad jokes aside, he does list Mitch Moreland as his surprise of the month, and I am inclined to agree.

When you consider the body of work, Death and Taxes (as he will forever be known, sorry Mitchy Fourbags fans, it just doesn’t make sense) is doing Aceves’ work out there on the field. When signed, we expected a glove-oriented first baseman, who might be a bit of a surprise offensively. In an article published after signing him, he was barely even discussed by the fans. In fact, there was talk that his bat didn’t profile to get much of a boost at Fenway, if any.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles
Mitch Moreland has been the exact opposite of our expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s an unwelcome subversion.
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

At least in the early goings, that is proving to be true. He’s currently slashing .281/.369/.465, with a league leading 15 doubles to show for it. But wait, that’s a good line, isn’t it?

It is, but at Fenway, Moreland has been dreadful. He is hitting .194/.315/.339 in Boston, which is actually a shock to me, especially since he has played so many games there this year and his numbers are still good on the whole. This is because his road work is incredible - .385/.439/.615.

Mitch Moreland has carried a huge bat on the road, which gives us a chance to win any game away from Fenway, making it all the more frustrating that no one else really wants to hit on the road. On the road, only Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi come close to matching his offensive production, but they are also Xander and Benintendi. Mookie and Hanley in particular have looked positively dreadful on the road, which makes it difficult to win, as they are the players often in position to set the table or clear it.

Mitch Moreland still leads the team in games played. He has played in 31 of 31 games, which yes, is all of them. Will Mitch Moreland play 162 games? Probably not. But he looks to have a good chance to beat the 158 that Mookie played last year. The last time a Sox player played 162 games was in 1985, when Bill Buckner, the first baseman, did it.

Moreland needs to hit better at home. He’s been pulling the ball at a 41.4% rate, and with how deep right field can get in a hurry, that should open himself up to more extra base hits. They just aren’t falling right now. So when they do, perhaps we should expect even more to come from a most surprising first baseman.

The last FanPost addressing a Red Sox player (I haven’t forgotten we had four entrants, I’m just saving that one for after) was by Ricochet!. He profiles the unexpected good play from Drew Pomeranz, something of a forgotten man in the Red Sox rotation.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox
Pomeranz has become something of an unexpected boon. Acquired straight up for Anderson Espinoza (whose stock lowered a bit post-trade, and hasn’t yet pitched in 2017), Pomeranz still has ceiling to spare, if he can make the next step.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I say forgotten, even though everybody knows exactly who he is. He’s the fifth starter in the Red Sox rotation when everyone is healthy. You have Sale, Price, and Porcello, three guys who are Cy Young contenders, and Eduardo Rodriguez who has seemingly pitched like one in the early goings. Then you have Pomeranz.

Pomeranz may be the worst of those five starters, by merit of “only” having a 4.00 ERA, and “only” pitching 27 innings in 5 games (for reference, Sale has 51.2 in 7 games, and Rodriguez has 28.1 in 5 starts — I’m not counting his relief appearance). Pomeranz doesn’t have a deep repertoire like the above pitchers. By all rights, he is essentially a two-pitch starter, something of an anomaly in today’s game. We are taught that you need at least three pitches of average or better quality to have a chance at being a major league starter.

Pomeranz takes this convention and bucks the trend. He relies on a four-seam fastball that goes a blistering 92 MPH on average, and a nasty knuckle-curve, that profiles as easily his best pitch. In 2017, he has thrown this knuckle-curve 43.8% of the time, which would be a career high. And the crazy thing is, it’s been working.

94.9% of all of Pomeranz’s pitches either profile as a four-seam fastball or this knucklecurve. The other 5.1% are a mix of his cutter and changeup, neither of which I’d consider even average. His cutter generates swings and misses, but is also a big fly ball pitch, something Pomeranz has needed to cut out of his game since coming to Fenway. His changeup has no deception, seemingly, and I can’t remember the last time he got a swinging strike on one.

The point I’m trying to make, is that Pomeranz has more or less ditched two of his four pitches, and come out looking like a better pitcher for it. While he isn’t pitching like the all-star that the Red Sox traded for, he’s been very reliable in 2017, as you can always count on 5 good innings from him at this point. You would prefer him to go six, and give you a better chance to win, but for a number five pitcher, he’s been very good.

Our last FanPost this week comes via tomisphere, who chose to write about a Yankee. Mind, it’s a Yankee who has a strong chance to be the Rookie of the Year, if April was any indication.

New York Yankees v Chicago Cubs
This is a big bat. This is also Aaron Judge swinging that big bat. There’s good reason to fear his power, the Yankees haven’t had someone with so much natural power in years.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Clocking thirteen massive home runs, Aaron Judge may be the new premier power hitter in the game. Look at that Isolated Power of .455! In 2016, the highest ISO belonged to David Ortiz at .305, and Aaron Judge is blowing that so out of the water that he may have created an entirely new ocean with the run-off.

It’s still early, of course, and he’s not the only player with a .455 ISO to begin 2017. Ryan Zimmerman is also experiencing something of a career renaissance this year, but Aaron Judge seems more likely to continue this torrid pace than Zimmerman.

Looking at tomisphere’s post will give you more of a look at stats, so I won’t bore you to tears here if you’ve already read that post. Instead, I want to focus on something historically, and how it relates to now.

It’s no secret that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is more or less dead, or at least a shell of what it used to be. A lot of this is that the Yankees haven’t been consistently good since 2012, and the Yankees haven’t been a team worth fearing since well before that. But Aaron Judge could be one of several players who helps make the Rivalry relevant again.

It’ll take some time for Aaron Judge’s numbers to normalize so we get a better idea of who he is, but the Yankees may not have ever had a batter as intimidating as Judge’s early numbers represent. Babe Ruth (who is almost certainly a better overall player than Judge will become) had a career ISO of .362. That speaks, of course, for his entire course of work, whereas these are just early numbers from a young Judge’s career.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees
Will Aaron Judge one day have a plaque in Cooperstown? It’s far too early to say, but his career is off to one of the best possible starts, to where you could describe his early power as Ruthian.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ruth’s best overall season by ISO, was his 1920 season (coincidentally, it was his first with the Yankees), where he had a .473. Obviously, it seems unlikely that Judge will further raise his numbers to match that, but I think it says a lot that the best player in Yankees history is one of the few to be able to claim having a better ISO than Judge at present.

Judge represents something that Red Sox fans should fear. No longer are the Yankees a joke. There’s a youth movement on the way, and Judge is leading it.

As always, thank you to the writers of OTM for their time

Mike Carlucci

Rookie of the Year predictions are a tricky thing. Sometimes you get a taste of a player, like Andrew Benintendi in 2016, and have to decide if that is a small sample size or an indicator of things to come. Hitting .295/,359/.476 with a couple homers in 34 games made it hard not to be excited for him to take the field in the spring.

In April , Benintendi decided to definitively say he's here to stay. In as much as you can in another 23-game sample at least. Will .333/.392/.478 be his final line? Probably not, but it's great to see. His defense has added to the JBJ & Mookie Betts outfield, turning the Red Sox fielding crew into something really special.

He's not being eased into the lineup at the bottom - he's right up at the top, even batting cleanup in May. The Red Sox have to be thrilled with his performance. Thankfully Dave Dombrowski didn't include Super Nintendo in a trade last summer or over the winter - even if it reduced the package of players needed to acquire Chris Sale to a one-for-one can you imagine the hole in the team?

Hopefully he's not a May-October surprise. Hopefully he is what we expect him to be because so far that's what we've seen. And if the RoY hardware comes with that, all the better!

Phil Neuffer

I was wrong. Not for the first time. Certainly not for the last time. That’s the poison sting of trying to project the future. For every time you correctly predict that pitcher A will be lights out, you incorrectly pick pitchers B through Z to do the same. My mea culpa does not concern pitchers though, but position players, specifically Red Sox position players, specifically Andrew Benintendi. It’s not that I thought Benintendi was bad or going to flop. I just didn’t think he was going to be this good. If you happened to read my Red Sox guide to fantasy baseball, you’ll know that I warned against going all in on Benintendi and taking him before the 15th round. He is currently ranked the No. 20 position player in fantasy according to ESPN and the No. 11 outfielder. That’s far above mid-teen round value.

But let’s not just focus on fantasy value. How about his actual baseball value to the Red Sox? It’s been impressive. Batting mostly second and third in the order (props to John Farrell for the confidence), the consensus No. 1 overall prospect (I guess I just ignored that) is second on the team in bWAR (1.1). He’s slashing .325/.385/.500 with five home runs and a team-high 20 RBI. He has been making excellent contact and getting on base at a good clip. Only 14.6 percent of his batted balls have fallen into the soft hit category and he is even striking out less than he did during his breakout summer a year ago. Plus he’s only getting better, as he just showed off in Minnesota, going 7-for-15 with two home runs and five RBI.

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins
It’s impossible to not root for Benintendi. Like Phil Neuffer, I didn’t expect he was going to be this good, either. In fact, I had hope we were going to pick Carson Fulmer instead of Benintendi. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

I also wasn’t particularly correct about Craig Kimbrel, who has been lights out, but there’s no doubt that my lack of faith in Benintendi looks most foolish right now.

Max Marcovitch

There were a few different candidates I considered for the most surprising Red Sox player thus far. Chris Sale for the pure scale of his dominance in his first season in an environment that often requires a transitory period. Andrew Benintendi for being really, really good really, really quickly. Christian Vazquez for showing competence with the bat. Eduardo Rodriguez for showing the signs of putting together top-of-the-rotation quality, led by a devastating changeup.

But I went with Mitch Moreland. I’m not really sure what I expected from Moreland coming into the season, but I can say I didn’t expect him to hit a double every single time he came to the plate. He came into the season with one of the more unenviable tasks — the middle-of-the-order bat who was brought in to help heal the loss of one of the greatest players in franchise history. He came off a season in which his on-base percentage was below .300 and he struck in almost 25% of his plate appearances — the classic three-true-outcomes player that I have come to despise. With a preconceived distaste, I was ready to jump on the Sam Travis train as soon as it was socially acceptable.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Mitch Moreland has surprised more people than I think even Mitch Moreland was expecting to surprise. His first month in Boston has people wondering just what more he can be. If he can ever get accustomed to Fenway, we’ve got a really good first baseman on our hands.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Instead, he trails only Andrew Benintendi in OPS (.834), and has come up with some big hits in some big spots for a team that has desperately needed it. While the rest of the lineup has struggled, Moreland has been a consistent force in the middle of the lineup, and leads baseball in doubles with 15. He obviously won’t ever be David Ortiz, but as the rest of the lineup starts to wake up from its month-long slumber, Moreland’s powerful bat could prove invaluable going forward. At the very least, it’s hard to imagine this team being three games over .500 without him so far.

Matt Collins

When Tyler Thornburg went down in spring, it was clear the Red Sox were going to have some questions behind (in front of? I never know how to phrase this.) Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen. The most popular pick to rise up above the rest and emerge as the eighth-inning arm was Joe Kelly, but that hasn’t quite worked out. John Farrell’s favorite has pretty clearly been Matt Barnes, but while he’s certainly showed some flashes he hasn’t been consistent enough. Instead, it’s been Heath Hembree to step up, even if he hasn’t really been handed the eighth inning role just yet.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Heath Hembree has been something of an unsung hero, early on. With 15.2 innings under his belt so far, and excellent numbers, he’s been just what the pen needs in the absence of Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg. Acquired for Jake Peavy, it’s hard to feel anything but positive about the results.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

I won’t go too deeply into this since I just recently wrote about Hembree, but I think he’s worth mentioning as the biggest surprise. The bullpen was going to be such a big worry, and while there is still some concern here Hembree has alleviated some that. His strikeouts are way up, his walks are down a touch and he’s inducing ground balls. On top of that, in a very small sample he’s been more effective against lefties. That was always a big concern for him, and if he can keep this up he’s a legitimate late-inning arm. The bullpen should get better with some healthy arms returning over the next month or two, and they’ll have Hembree to join them in high-leverage spots.

We were fortunate to have a lot of good responses this week, so I’ll keep my own blurb fairly short this time around:

I believe the Red Sox biggest surprise in April to be Eduardo Rodriguez. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Eddie, and I think he’s got a long future ahead of him as our future #3 starter, potentially. You might take this to mean that one of our big three pitchers is going to leave, but I’m considering the possibility that all three are still here when Rodriguez attains what I believe to be his full potential.

So who falls out of the top three? In my opinion, that’s David Price, who will become the best #4 SP in all of baseball.

Rodriguez’s career has been outlined for all of us already. Acquired for Andrew Miller (what a steal, even if Miller ended up becoming one of the best relievers in the game) as his contract was expiring, he’s seen a marked improvement every year in the system.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles
What lies ahead for Eduardo Rodriguez? If what we’ve seen is any indication of his growth, then he still has so much more he can accomplish.
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

When first acquired in 2014, he gave us a glimpse of what he would become while with Portland. With a 0.96 ERA, and great peripherals (7.2 H9/0.2 HR9/1.9 BB9/9.4 K9, albeit in a small sample size), the sky seemed to be the limit. This was also at a time where the youth movement was well and truly under way, and great things were expected of everyone in the system.

When he made his major league debut in 2015, after a strong start with Pawtucket, he looked to be a quality major league starter. Pitching 121.2 innings for that Red Sox team, Rodriguez put forth enough work to get Red Sox Nation excited for his future. His peripherals were decent, and his youth made him highly valuable.

2016 saw Eddie take what many perceived to be a step back, but I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that I think 2016 was the single most important year, thus far, in his development. He worked through his weaknesses as a major league player, and as a result, his numbers suffered. But emerging from those adversities was a strong pitcher. In the last month of the season, Rodriguez would return to the rotation, and put up a 3.27 ERA, holding opponents to a .189/.273/.295 line. During this time, his peripherals would really stand out to me: 6.27 H/9, 0.56 HR/9, 3.27 BB/9, and 10.64 K/9.

To me, that represents what Eduardo Rodriguez can be as a pitcher, even if he’s still not quite there yet.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox
Eduardo Rodriguez was dominant down the stretch in 2016, and showed the first true flashes, in my opinion, of the type of starter he can be down the line.
Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

In 2017, he’s taken further steps to get to that point, and while he’s walked more batters than I would like, he’s gotten the same general results I was hoping for, even though I wasn’t expecting him to be this good, this fast. His FIP has remained relatively stable all three years he’s been in the majors, but I think this is the beginning of the rest of his career, so to speak, and that by this time next year, we might be calling David Price our third best left handed starting pitcher in the rotation. Perhaps fourth if Pomeranz can ever pitch more than five innings in a game.

And that is all for FPF this week! See you next time!