As of this moment, we are a little over two-thirds of the way through the season. The trade deadline passed on the 31st, and in case you were hiding beneath a rock, the Red Sox did nothing. That is right. Nothing.
They didn’t trade for Shane Greene or Noah Syndergaard or Edwin Diaz, or Scooter Gennett, or Sam Dyson, or Mark Melancon, or anyone else. The Red Sox held all the cards, raised their eyebrows, and folded at the last second, just when most everyone thought they might push a chip or two in.
Today, with the roster basically set in stone, we’re going to look at every major player on the roster (the ones who have a chance to be an impact) and assign a grade to them, and how they’ve performed this season. (All stats prior to 8/2.)
I will be grading on the following criteria:
- Success. This is probably the most important one, since it has to do with whether or not the player is playing well. If the player is not playing well, no matter what, they cannot get a good grade. You have to be doing something right to pass. This isn’t Kindergarten. You don’t get to pass for trying.
- Expectations. We’re going to try to consider what a player’s success is, relative to their expectations. We’re not going to expect the same out of Sandy Leon that we would out of Mookie Betts, and we’re not going to expect the same out of Chris Sale and Matt Barnes. If a player has higher expectations, they have a higher bar to clear.
- Grit. OK, this isn’t really a factor, but I’m not going to call it an “x-factor”. This portion exists for me to grade other things, like hustle and effort, attitude, or other intangibles that don’t show up on baseball card.
Vázquez has had a fantastic season. He’s hitting .279/.318/.480, with a career high (by a wide margin) 16 home runs, and some room for more power the rest of the way. It would not be shocking to see him finish the season with 20 dingers, which would be four times the most he’d had in a season entering 2019.
Probably the most impressive thing about Vázquez, though, is that he’s completely squashed any notion that there’s any other catcher that should be the primary catcher in Boston. Last year, there was legitimate debate about who should be playing most often, but Vazquez has completely and utterly stamped out his competition.
His contract was once (amazingly) seen as a negative, and a reward for no apparent reason in the eyes of many. Now the Red Sox appear to have an above average catcher in every facet of the game under contract for the next three years at a significant discount. A year ago, Sandy León and Vázquez split time just about evenly at catcher. This year, Vazquez has the lion’s share of games played, and this isn’t changing.
Grade - A+. He’s significantly surpassed expectations, has shown great hustle, and is just generally awesome to watch.
All the things I said about Vazquez? They aren’t true about Sandy Leon this year. Not only has he been a significantly below average hitter, but he’s also taken several steps back defensively, and the one thing that was his calling card (his relationship with pitchers, and his superior catcher ERA) is no longer truly an advantage in his favor.
Chris Sale is still pitching better to León this season on the whole, but Sale still hasn’t been his usual self with Leon behind the plate. Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price have significantly better results with Vázquez. Rick Porcello is pitching poorly to both catchers, so I don’t think it truly matters, even though he’s technically doing better with Leon.
Christian Vázquez has been able to handle the other pitchers because he’s been given a chance to work with them. My belief is that he can also handle the other pitchers if he gets any chance to establish a rapport.
It’s time for León to leave.
Grade - D. Technically he gets a passing grade, because he’s doing well with two of our pitchers, and that matters for something. But he’s inferior to Vazquez in almost every way. And where he is superior to Vazquez, the gap isn’t wide enough to believe he’ll stay there long.
Chavis is an interesting player to consider. From purely statistical value, he’s hitting as well as you can really hope a relatively unheralded rookie can. He’s hitting .258/.327/.453, with 17 homers in a half-season’s worth of games. He’s brought energy, and another threat to a loaded lineup.
Unfortunately, he has some significant weaknesses. He cannot hit lefties at all. He strikes out 33% of the time (which is the most among qualified hitters by a decent margin). He has clear weaknesses in the strike zone.
But he’s still a monster at Fenway, and against righties he’s incredibly fun to watch. One note is that he’s been significantly better defensively at second base than any of us ever gave him credit for. It’s easy to forget since he’s been a third baseman forever, but he began his career as a shortstop.
Grade - B+. He has some work to do, but when considering the expectations entering the season, I think it’s hard to be anything other than happy about what he’s shown in his rookie campaign. He won’t win Rookie of the Year, but he’ll get some votes.
Raise your hand if you thought Brock Holt would come back from vertigo, the scratched cornea, and the blockages at every position, and not only be a fantastic utility player, but a player many actually hope is in the lineup on any given day?
He hasn’t provided much in the way of power or speed, but that’s not Brock Holt’s game. Brock Holt is pesky. Brock Holt is probably annoying for a pitcher to face. Brock Holt is going to poke a single through the hole. Brock Holt may extend it into a double if you don’t hustle after the ball. Brock Holt is coming for you.
It’s been a small sample size. He hasn’t even hit 50 games played on the ledger this year due to injuries. His production is largely the same as it was last year, though, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox need Brock Holt to do.
Grade - B+. Maybe I’m being too generous. But I’m honestly just amazed Brock Holt is still defying my expectations after all this time. I think he can be a free agent after this season. I’m worried we’ll lose him. This is not what I expected.
After Xander Bogaerts signed that massive extension, the primary fear was that he wouldn’t end up being worth it. He quickly put that to rest days after signing the contract. What’s followed has been a complete career year for a player who did not need to have a career year to get paid.
Xander has achieved a career high in home runs, is about to achieve a career high in walks, and isn’t far from getting to those marks in doubles and RBIs. When the season is over, it would not be a shock to see that Xander has had the best year of his career by every metric possible.
If there’s any negative, it’s that his defense still isn’t as good as it could be, but he’s made some fantastic plays to add to his highlight reel, and has really emerged as a leader of this team. With Xander under contract for the foreseeable future, there’s a lot to like.
Grade - A+. With only one exception in my mind, Xander Bogaerts has had the single greatest season of any Red Sox player. His initial exclusion from the All-Star roster is an affront to all that is sacred, and I hope Xander channels that into being the best player on the planet for the next six or so years.
I hate to quote stats as primary arguments, but he’s hitting .324/.374/.566, and has hit 21 home runs. As of right now, he’s leading the league in hits, as well as doubles. He has the 7th highest fWAR of all position players in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, Ketel Marte, Alex Bregman and Xander Bogaerts. He is legitimately in the MVP discussion. Or would be if stupid sexy Mike Trout didn’t exist.
Did I mention that he’s 22 years old? That feels important to note. There are 6 qualified hitters in all of baseball who are 22 years old or younger. The second best offensive talent in that category is the incredible Ronald Acuna Jr. Devers has basically lapped him this year.
For exhibit B, I present the following stat line: .290/.386/.570. Note how all of these numbers, except the on base percentage are below Devers numbers this season. The line belongs to none other than David Ortiz. The numbers listed are his career Red Sox numbers. And we can all agree David Ortiz was awesome.
Grade - A++. That’s not a typo. I’m giving him two pluses because he’s playing so ridiculously that it would be unfair to only give him one. I can’t believe we get to watch him for the next few years and he’s already this good.
A week ago, I would have easily given Benintendi a C. Maybe even a C-. He wasn’t producing like we were hoping he would, and I’d seen some chatter that we should consider trading him.
I’m glad we can put that behind us, because he’s surged back to relevance in a fantastic way in the past week or two. He’s still striking out far too often, and his walk rate isn’t looking too hot, but his triple slash is now virtually identical to how it was a year ago, when we were fine with his production.
He’s been helped by park dimensions a bit in this stretch, and there’s always going to be the fear of regression, and it is also true that he may never be the bat people had hoped he would become, but Benintendi has still become quite a good player that we can play at a relative pittance in terms of cost.
Grade - Incomplete. I want to give him a C+ or a B-, but I can’t in good conscience grade him higher just for an extra week’s worth of high intensity play. I’m giving Beni an extension on his paper, but only this once.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Well, red-hot Jackie Bradley Jr. was a thing in the playoffs last year, and we all know he can be a streaky hitter... but I’m sure we had all hoped he would be a little more “hot JBJ” than “cold JBJ” this season. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what we got.
He’s hitting for some decent power, and he’s utilizing his speed well on the base paths this year, but it hasn’t excused his high strikeout rates, or his inability to get on base compared to his peers. We shouldn’t expect much from our #9 hitter, but we should also be expecting him to be more than a #9 hitter given his talent level, and what we’ve seen him do in the past.
It may also just be me, but it feels like his fielding isn’t even otherworldly anymore. (Ed. Note: It’s just you, Jake.) He still makes some real beauties happen, but it feels like he’s not getting reads like he used to, and has taken a step back in this department.
Grade - D. He’s getting a passing grade. But only barely. And with his cost rising, we need more from him if we’re going to try to keep him long-term. Which I don’t think we do.
Full disclosure, it is really really hard to follow up an MVP season. Don’t believe me? Be an MVP at something. Anything. It has to be something highly competitive though. It doesn’t matter if you are the best in the world at poking yourself in the cheek, that’s not really a sport, and nobody tracks MVP awards for that. Mookie Betts is coming off a year where he was the best player in the entire world at baseball, a game everyone by and large knows about.
This season has not been an MVP level season! That’s ok! What Mookie has done is be a productive player, providing both power and speed in respectable amounts, and contributed to what is one of the top offenses in baseball, by scoring a league leading amount of runs. And this may come as a surprise, but as of now, he’s walking more than he strikes out. That is really hard to do. Only five qualified players in MLB have a BB/K ratio of at least one. Mookie is one of those. He’s still a really good player.
Grade - B. B is for Betts. Not for bad. Don’t let the haters get you down. Mookie is still a ridiculously good player, who we should be trying to extend long-term.
OK, he’s not really an outfielder, but what would be the point of making a Designated Hitter category for just him?
Entering the year, my personal expectation was J.D. would hit for a lot of power, and be a stable force in the middle of the lineup. Half of that is true right now. He’s found his power sapped, and may only hit 30-35 home runs this year, but he’s managed to remain a productive bat in the middle of the order to some degree, though usually he just serves as a shield to other hitters in the lineup.
He’s swinging too much on pitches he should not be swinging at, and his strikeout numbers just help illustrate this fact. He’s not going to lead the league in RBI like he did last season, nor is he going to come close to leading the league in any other stat.
He has two opt-outs coming up in his contract. It would not be surprising to see him opt-out. It would also not be surprising to see him not opt-out. I could see him doing either thing, and no matter what happens, I think the Red Sox will be prepared for it.
Grade - B-. I really want to see more power out of Just Dingers Martinez this season to up his grade. I’d settle for a more consistent approach at the plate.