The Red Sox have played 12 of their 60 games to this point on the calendar, and to say they could have gotten off to a better start would be an understatement. Boston has won just four of those 12 games — that’s eight losses for those following along at home — and there have been a bunch of disappointing performances. That said, there have been some positives as well. For this week’s roundtable, I asked the staff to consider both positives and negatives and pick one player on either side on whom their opinion has changed based on this season despite the small sample size.
The easy answer here has to be Andrew Benintendi. After a great 2018 in which he accumulated 4.4 fWAR, he regressed a bit in 2019, but was expected to have a bounce-back season this year. However, 11 games into the season, Benny sits at the bottom of the league in almost every metric. He’s in the bottom four percent in exit velocity and hard-hit rate, and bottom one percent in expected batting average and expected slugging percentage. Despite walking quite a bit, he’s looked nothing short of inept at the plate. The biggest bummer is a 60-game season doesn’t give him much leeway to figure things out.
In the absolutely way too small sample size of the first few weeks, I’ve been impressed by Nathan Eovaldi. In three starts he’s had two gems and a dud - and that dud has some qualifiers. It was one weird inning when the wheels fell off. He hasn’t thrown 90 pitches yet but has gone six, five and five innings, respectively, with 3 walks against 14 strikeouts. I’ve never disliked Eovaldi as a pitcher but the injury bug has bitten him more than it ever should. With the label of staff ace falling to him by default and two spring trainings spread over several months you were really wishing Eovaldi, of all guys, could get a regular runway to the start of the season. So far, he’s come out looking sharp. It’s a weird year for the Red Sox but he’s the best version of himself so far. And that’s a pleasant surprise.
Christian Vázquez’s 2020 performance has greatly altered my opinion on him. I never thought there would be a season where he would hit more than 15 home runs but after seeing him smack 23 last year, I chalked it up to the happy fun ball. However, he has hit the ground running this season and have already popped four out of park. While I don’t expect him to keep up that pace, I do believe in the power he started to show last year. Not only has Vázquez become a better hitter but his defense is superb. His 40 percent caught stealing rate is seven percentage points above league average. He is easily a top 10 catcher and I think I might put him in the top five in the league.
Christian Vázquez. He was my pick for biggest disappointment when we did superlatives and I don’t need to wait any longer to admit I was wrong. The control of the strike he has right now is impressive. He’s also continued to improve his exit velocity and launch angle from last season which was already career highs. Jake and I spoke about Vázquez on the last Red Seat pod and he’s firmly in the conversation for top five catchers in the league.
Twelve games of performance doesn’t tell me anything but it has been nice to see Christian Vázquez’s power hang around. The ball seems to still be juiced, but the swings Vázquez has put on balls have been full of loft and hard contact. I don’t know what benchmarks we’re going to use for this shortened season, but it looks like he’d be on the way to another 20+ home run season if not for the late start. I don’t see it mentioned anywhere often, but his extension has been a total bargain. Another feather in Big Dave’s cap.
I have to go with Andrew Benintendi. I kind of already expected the pitching to be terrible, but I went into the season with higher expectations from Benintendi. Since his breakout in 2018, he’s trended backwards, first into just being a league average player and now into being one of the worst in all of baseball. No, seriously. I know it’s a ludicrously small sample size, but we’ve also played over one fifth of the full schedule at this point. A small sample is all you are getting in 2020.
Benintendi has the 11th worst fWAR in baseball as of Thursday, when I began writing my response to this roundtable. He’s presently hitting .069/.289/.103. If not for the walks, I fully believe Benintendi would have a claim for the worst player in all of baseball. There are some other surprising names in his company, like Gleyber Torres, Ozzie Albies, and Christian Yelich. I’d say it’s probably a safe bet that at least a couple of these guys bounce back.
I just really hope one of them is Benintendi. But based on what we’ve seen from him so far, I’m not sure positive regression is actually coming right now.
I am really worried about Andrew Benintendi, but I was before the season. I guess I’m surprisingly pleased enough with Martín Pérez’s performance so far that I’ll say him, though one bad outing and it could go up in smoke. For the time being, it’s “Nate and Marty and the rest is not a party,“ and I’ll be at the party, repeating my bad puns.
I’m going to switch things up here and resist the urge to join everyone else on the Benintendi or Vázquez train. Instead, I’m going to go positive with Kevin Pillar. I didn’t hate the addition of Pillar this winter because he is a perfectly cromulent fourth outfielder with an outstanding glove. We know that from his days in Toronto. But I wasn’t expecting much of anything at the plate and wasn’t really buying into the modest power gains from last season. I think I was wrong about that. I’ve been really impressed with the swings he’s put on baseballs and he looks like a totally different guy at the plate than what I remember from his Blue Jays days. He’s not going to keep up the 145 wRC+, but between the switch from San Francisco last year to Boston this year along with playing a disproportionate number of games against lefties, Pillar could be a true impact piece off the bench.
Coming into this season I viewed Andrew Benintendi as top 30 outfielder in baseball right now and as a future top 20 outfielder. He seemed to have everything: Slightly above average defense in left field, a fantastic hit tool, enough power for 20 home runs, and speed on the base paths to challenge for 20 stolen bases. He showed us a 20/20 season in 2017 so why couldn’t he continue to improve on that? Over the course of his young career Benintendi has been pretty good in different seasons against all types of pitching. He’s been best against fastballs, up and down against breaking pitches, and has struggled against off-speed pitches every year except for 2018 when he hit extremely well against them. This year he has two hits against fastballs and then nothing. Breaking and off-speed pitches are destroying him and he’s seeing off-speed pitches at a higher rate than ever before, over 20%. I no longer believe he has All-Star potential, I hope he can just get back being an above average regular. There is no question to me that he should not be anywhere near the top of the lineup until he fixes many of these issues.