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The Flyby : Biggest Surprises

Let’s try a little better next weekend.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Okay, so I made an error on FanPost Friday and left the comments open, which meant that two people snuck in their submission without making a FanPost. I’ll accept it this week, because I was an idiot, but typically, I want them in FanPost form!

This team has been really good. You might not realize it with how they’ve played this month, but the team hasn’t won 100 games by accident, and won’t be threatening to win 110 by accident. How have they gotten here? It’s largely on the backs of some big performances, and only a handful of true disappointments.

What did the commenters have to say?

TheMacTavish - Swihart/Pomeranz

What they said - Though Blake Swihart hasn’t been great, he’s had some value, which is a surprise. They fully expected to get nothing for Swihart, which would have been sad, but then a miracle occurred, and now he’s worth more than a bag of balls. Drew Pomeranz has been a tragic disappointment. The team has won 102 games without his help... but how many could we have won if he wasn’t terrible?

On the topic of Blake Swihart, entering the season, he had hit .270/.330/.383 in 109 games across three seasons. His defense wasn’t much to look at, and with Christian Vazquez having seemingly dethroned him as the “catcher of the future”, and Sandy Leon gaining clout with the organization (despite being expected to be only a brief stop-gap option) through his rapport with the pitching staff, moves had to be made to keep Swihart relevant in Boston.

Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

They tried him out in the outfield. He got hurt. They tried him at first base, but Mitch Moreland (and later, Steve Pearce) blocked him there too. He showed a few chops at third base, but Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers both needed somewhere to play too. Swihart was well and truly blocked at pretty much every position he had experience at. At some point, his representatives supposedly asked for a trade. Swihart seemed done in Boston, just by nature of being blocked everywhere, and being out of options.

Then, amazingly, he got playing time. More amazingly, he actually played relatively well. His stat line this season isn’t pretty. It would not be hard to argue that this season, his bat looks worse than it ever has, on the whole. But to say that is to ignore many important caveats to making that argument. Batters need to play multiple games back to back to establish a groove. Only 40 of his games this season have come following a previous game played by the team. He’s had multiple days off, and usually, his streak of playing goes at most, two days, and then it’s back to the bench for a day, or two, or three.

To his credit, however, he seems to play better when given multiple days off. Four of his six multi-hit games have come after at least a single game on the bench, and so has his lone home run on the year. There’s not enough data to make any significant determination on what he’ll be going forward, but it does feel as if he needs to be given a closer look in September (and in Spring Training next season), before we have another season of the three catcher nightmare that has arguably plagued the team all season.

I advise cautious optimism. He’s shown flashes of what made him a top prospect way back when, but he still has a bit of a ways to go before I’m sliding him to the top of the depth chart. His defense has improved a fair deal this season, but I still believe him to potentially be the worst defensive catcher of the three options, at present (assuming a healthy Christian Vazquez, which is not something we can assume), and defense at catcher is definitely something that matters. I think further experience at the position will be the best teacher.

kalinis - Everything

What they said - They expected a 95 win club, and for the division race to actually be close. The biggest disappointment is the offense out of the catching position. Kudos to the pitching rotation for playing well despite most missing a significant portion of time.

On the topic of offensive production from the catchers (since we just spoke about Swihart), it got me wondering what production would be ok with me from the catcher position. Of the 64 catchers in baseball with at least 100 plate appearances, Swihart ranks 51st in wRC+, Vazquez 58th, and Leon 60th. In case you were wondering, the four below Leon are Roberto Perez, Pedro Severino, Francisco Pena, and Jesus Sucre.

New York Mets v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Swihart being the best of the three catchers, offensively, isn’t really shocking, because it isn’t a particularly high bar to clear. But with that said, even Swihart’s production just isn’t enough, without Swihart being a significantly better defensive catcher. If we were to “settle” for a catcher with closer to an 80 wRC+, you’d be looking at Mike Zunino, Manny Pina, and Tucker Barnhart, who all rank in the low 20’s-high 30’s in the same category that our three catchers rank in the bottom 15.

Now, I’m not sure how important it is for a catcher to hit. I think any offense can afford a single black hole. To expect a Murderer’s Row of an offense up and down the order may be a bit too much.

The best offensive year (by wRC+) for the Red Sox was back in 2003. In that year (among many others) the Red Sox were anchored behind Jason Varitek behind the plate, a player I will forever appreciate. Varitek was a player who could both hit, and catch the ball, and commanded the utmost respect from everyone on the team, which is why he was named team captain.

We have to understand that Jason Variteks do not grow on trees. We were spoiled by Varitek being around for as long as he was, but it may give us some semi-unrealistic expectations out of our players.

I do think that expecting even a mediocre performance (over a bad one) isn’t asking too much though, and I think that’s what kalinis is most upset about here, that the team hasn’t managed even a mediocre performance out of their catchers, offensively.

This article is running long, but I want to also give a shout-out to David Price as my biggest surprise. Entering the season, Price entered the year as one of the most unliked players I’d seen in recent history. I liked him just fine, but it felt as if patience was running out for Boston’s $217 million man. Then on July 1, Price pitched a stinker against the Yankees, and the sky absolutely fell.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

3.1 innings pitched. Eight earned runs. Against the Yankees. Price still had some defenders, who pointed out that the Yankees had been his kryptonite since coming to Boston, and that he was still pitching excellently against non-Yankees teams. But then Price came out and proved it.

After the July 1st stinker, going into last night’s game (which is in progress as I type this - and I’ll likely be in bed by the time the game ends, because I have to wake up early), Price pitched in 11 games. In those 11 games, he went 69 innings, and pitched to a 2.22 ERA. He did this facing some weak teams like the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, and the New York Yankees. Wait. The Yankees?

His success in this run was predicated by his low walk rate, and high strikeout rate. David Price pitches as well as his control is working, and for that run, Price was looking like a player who may have been worth 30+ million dollars a year. That’s really hard to do. I’m not sure how many pitchers are actually worth that much money. For Price to make me question if he was pitching like he was worth that much money is a win in itself.

Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, I do think David Price deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done for the Sox this year. When Chris Sale got hurt, the season could have been derailed. Instead, the Red Sox found an ace in David Price. He was here all along.

I also want to make a note of this FanPost (which I was not sure was a response to FPF). JD Martinez has been really good. Somehow, better than I think any of us expected.