In what was a fairly typical weekend, I asked a fairly typical question, who was a surprise in April, for the Red Sox, for better or worse? We got two responses this week, and as usual, it’s time to break them down.
Not-So-Surprising by gosawks
What they said: The catchers are not hitting, Mookie is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The starting pitchers are ok, if a bit inconsistent, and both Hanley and Moreland are showing why they are playing big roles early. J.D. is a tank. JBJ is an excellent defender, Devers is making a lot of errors. Swihart is on the bench despite a great spring. These did not shock gosawks. What was shocking were Alex Cora’s competence, Hanley stealing bases, Benintendi taking a small step backwards, Chris Sale being human, Porcello being a demi-god, Carson Smith being shaky, and Mookie being another demi-god.
What I want to touch on, because it feels like the elephant in the room, is Blake Swihart.
I’m sure we’ve heard enough about Blake Swihart at this point, and we’ve probably written several epic novels on the subject of where he fits in on this current Red Sox team, but as time goes on I feel like we will need to revisit this topic more and more. I figure it might be the biggest question mark on this team and it will need to be solved eventually.
As several have pointed out by now, Blake Swihart just isn’t getting playing time. A lot of this is simply because the Red Sox offense is pretty good, and the positions that he can reliably play are loaded. The key word there, of course, is reliably.
Can Swihart play catcher? It’s hard to tell, since he’s logged exactly one inning at the position this year during garbage time of a lost baseball game. He didn’t even catch a pitcher of any consequence, having been assigned to work with Marcus Walden. Apologies to Walden, but if he’s a pitcher of consequence for us after May something has probably gone terribly wrong (or more hopefully, terribly right).
If Swihart as a catcher is out, and he hasn’t logged an MiLB inning at second base, shortstop, third base, center field, or right field, you can’t rightfully call him a utility player. It’s disingenuous to suggest he’s anything more than a third string first baseman, and third string left fielder.
I say third string in both instances, because it’s become abundantly clear that the Red Sox would rather play both Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez at first ahead of Swihart, and play both Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez ahead of Swihart in left field. Now, you could write a journal about why playing J.D. Martinez in left field is a bad idea, I’m sure, but it’s not like Swihart is out there winning any gold gloves either.
In both instances, having two players ahead of Swihart is absolutely the right move. Those players are good. They are tested. They are proven stars or at least proven reliable MLB talent. Swihart is not any of these things. He is not proven, he is not reliable, and he is at least at present, not really MLB talent, until proven otherwise.
In reality, Swihart would still be in AAA if it wasn’t for his lack of options, if for no other reason than to get him in games, and try to figure out what position he is. But the time is up. There’s no more of it. The Red Sox failed to find a proper position for Swihart, and they failed to make him a proper utility player (with a few weeks, Pedroia and Holt will both return, and Nunez will be placed in a bench role himself), and they really have no one but themselves to blame for this mess.
A change of scenery appears to be the best possible result for all parties. At present, Swihart’s spot on the roster is actively hindering the team from fielding the best roster of players possible, regardless of how he plays (and when he has played, it hasn’t been great). But what scenery would best benefit Swihart and the Red Sox? There’s been speculation about the Red Sox and Matt Harvey, but according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox don’t have interest in that.
I think there’s some merit in trying Harvey as a reclamation project, but I’d personally steer very clear of that, particularly since Harvey seems unwilling to take even a few days in the minors. The Red Sox already have too many starting pitchers, and their bullpen doesn’t need a player who doesn’t want to be in the bullpen.
In my opinion, Swihart needs a change of scenery. The Mets make sense, but not at the Matt Harvey cost that I’m sure the Mets would be most interested in. Hopefully, if he’s moved it is for more than a player to be named later, or the dreaded cash considerations.
April Surprises! - Nick Armstrong
What they said: Hanley has been the most pleasant surprise. Devers has not struggled as much as he thought. Velazquez has been a sneaky x-factor in this team’s early success. The Orioles suck. The division is lukewarm, and for the taking, outside of the Yankees (who Nick doesn’t think will be able to sustain excellence off their rookies). Bradley Jr’s offense is miserable, Price is struggling too much, Swihart again, and Benintendi is struggling. Porcello and Xander Bogaerts could be in for a sharp downfall, and Mookie is the king of everything (but you already knew that).
I feel like the biggest topic to talk about is actually the division there, but Velazquez as a topic is too tempting. We’ll just say this regarding Velazquez, and you can draw your own conclusions: He’s leaving a wildly high number of runners on base, and isn’t really striking guys out with authority. He hasn’t allowed an unearned run yet, but with the defense being what it has been recently, I figure this streak might end sooner rather than later.
However, with that said, there’s the possibility that he’ll continue to outperform his peripherals. He pitched similarly last year, and had success despite the same issues mentioned above. I believe the success comes from proper use from Alex Cora. Over 50% of the times the ball is hit, it goes into the air, either as a line drive, or as a fly-ball. Thus far, he’s played in Texas, Oakland, Tampa, and Boston. He’s given up 4 of his 6 runs in Boston, and this is in a sample of 13.1 innings. That’s a 2.70 ERA, which is still very good, but shows a bit more of an indication of what might be coming.
Fenway Park, as you may know, has the following dimensions, from left to right field: 310 ft, 379 ft, 389 ft, 420 ft, 380 ft, 302 ft. Of the parks that Velazquez has played in this season, outside of Fenway, the smallest overall outfield that Velazquez has played at is Tropicana Field.
Can Velazquez continue to get success in spite of spotty peripherals? Can he continue to leave around 90% of all baserunners stranded? Among the 152 pitchers with at least 20 innings of work under their belt, Velazquez ranks 4th in LOB%. Most of the names surrounding him on that list have also been pitching above their heads, debateably. For example, if Jarlin Garcia continues to have an ERA of around 1.00 at the end of the season (assuming of course that he stays healthy and actually pitches in the major leagues), please, tell me the lottery numbers.
I’m a pretty big fan of Velazquez, and what he means for this team, especially with how the team’s starting pitching has been inconsistent, for the most part, but I also believe he’s pitching just slightly above his head right now. Fun fact: I recapped his MLB debut around a year ago, today.
That’s it for this week! See you all on Friday!