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Red Sox Monthly Review: Was May good to the Sox?

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Yes. Yes it was.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago, I looked at the month of April for the Red Sox. That worked well, so we’re doing it again.

In general, May was good to the Red Sox. They went 15-11 — a step back from their torrid April, but still good — and finished the month in second place in the AL East behind the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays.

Some things went well for the Red Sox, as they were anchored once more by a strong showing from their offense. The unit finished 7th in baseball in wRC+ for the month. Still, many things took a step back as well, including their rotation, which had the 11th worst ERA in baseball, and their bullpen also took a step back, going from the 7th best bullpen ERA to the 16th best.

The offense being a strong point is no surprise, but what was surprising was where they were getting their output from this month. Hunter Renfroe had an incredibly hot May, as he carried more than his share offensively over the past month. Batting .319/.333/.604 for the month of May, Renfroe finished the month with the second-best wRC+ (155) on the team, trailing only Xander Bogaerts and finishing a spot ahead of Rafael Devers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

One more impressive performance offensively in the month of May belongs to none other than Enrique Hernández. Following a right hamstring strain and a subsequent rehab appearance in Worcester, his bat returning to the lineup gave the Red Sox a bit of a shot in the arm before falling off a bit at the end of the month. In all, he hit .255/.328/.400, acceptable for a leadoff hitter. While I was skeptical about his ability to play leadoff, given poor on-base skills in the past, he has recovered from a substandard April to become a solid overall contributor in this Red Sox lineup.

But it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Several players underperformed in May as well. The first player of note was Franchy Cordero, who has already been demoted to Triple-A Worcester to work on his swing in a low-stress environment. Cordero has been a frustrating player to watch, in part because his talent level should be higher than he is showing. Prior to his demotion, he launched a ball several millions of feet away, probably into the stratosphere (OK, so it was only 474 feet), which gave Sox fans a great parting gift. Currently in Triple-A, he’s been hitting bombs, something I expect to continue.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

I was also put off by the performances of Marwin Gonzalez and Bobby Dalbec. Christian Vázquez escapes my ire on the basis of being extremely good defensively, and being only a bit below average offensively for the month of May.

Gonzalez’s defense has actually been pretty good, especially for a utility player, but his bat has been black hole level terrible for the past month. Part of this is aided by a terrible 2.5 percent walk rate (he drew only one more walk than Nate Eovaldi, a pitcher, despite playing in 21 games) and 30.4 percent strikeout rate. He’s been borderline unplayable, only slipping through the cracks because the rest of the team has been hitting well enough.

Dalbec in particular has me already looking at potential first base options that could be available via trade over the next two months. His hitting has been bad, and his defense has been worse. At first base, we just have a higher level of expectation from our players at the plate and Dalbec, for as much power as he possesses, is just not reaching that level. He hit .200/.243/.429 for the month of May, with his wRC+ coming in at 80 (100 being league average).

MLB: Miami Marlins at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

While the pitching took a step back after what was a masterful month of April, there were some bright spots to be had, and you don’t have to look that far to find the first star of the month in Josh Taylor. Taylor had become something of a whipping boy for armchair general managers and fans across social media, but the lefty’s performance should silence his critics. Taylor came into 11 games in the month of May, pitching eight scoreless innings in the month. He was often called in with runners on, and some scored, but this is less a Taylor problem and more a problem for whoever he relieved.

Hirokazu Sawamura also had a particularly good month, as he pitched to a 2.16 ERA himself in 8 13 innings of work. While he was still quite hittable, he limited the damage allowed in part due to his only allowing two walks for the month. More impressively, he struck out fourteen batters in his small sample of innings and did a good job of throwing strikes in general (66 percent for the month).

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Other relievers at the upper end of the hierarchy did well, such as Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes, and Darwinzon Hernandez, but this almost doesn’t merit mention as they performed to expectations. Hernandez was bit a touch by the walk bug, Barnes had a single shaky outing, and Ottavino played his wire to wire tightrope act well, and none of this is shocking to me.

The last positive mention I want to make here is for Martín Pérez. He performed greatly in the month of May, just as he performed acceptably in the month of April. This is great for the team, as the relief corps have been a bit inconsistent. For Perez to come in and do his job is great. He is pitching well above expectations, and one can only hope that continues.

However, I’m not sure which Pérez we will get in the second half of the season. He has performed well in the first halves of seasons in the past, but I wanted to look more deeply into it. Pérez has had three full seasons of note in 2016, 2017 and 2019. In 2016, his ERA through May 3.12. After May it was 5.03. In 2017, his ERA through May was 4.19. After May it was 5.14. In 2019 he had a 3.71 ERA through May, but a 5.93 ERA after. Will this happen to Perez again in 2021? I hope not, but it bears watching going forward.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

There were a few bad performances that need to turn around if the Red Sox want to have a successful June. The chief offender this month has to be Eduardo Rodriguez. After a strong April that made many of us think he was back following COVID-related myocarditis, May definitely has given me pause on this assertion. While he has been hamstrung by some bad luck, the general quality of contact against him has also been stronger, which makes me think it isn’t luck, but rather an issue with decreased velocity and poor pitch selection or sequencing. We cannot eliminate the possibility he is tipping his pitches, either. Either way, his ERA ballooned to 7.28, easily the worst month of his career.

For all the good things I wrote about Matt Andriese last month, I have to write some pretty bad things this time around, as he was wholly ineffective and thrown into situations that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m not sure what Andriese’s role is with the Red Sox going forward, but I certainly hope more care is given to his placement in the coming months. Part of this can be fixed by having the starters pitch deeper into games, as five of his nine appearances began in the sixth inning.

The last negative note for the month will be the combined form of Austin Brice and Colten Brewer. Brice was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Danny Santana. He went unclaimed on waivers and still lurking in the organization. Brewer didn’t pitch as much as Brice, but showed he was (so far) the same Brewer as before, as he gave up four hits, three walks, and four earned runs in a single inning of work, taking a potentially winnable game and pushing it so far out of reach that Alex Cora brought out bench players to rest his starters.

It was a good month for Red Sox baseball, but one that also showed this team needs a lot of improvement if it wants to hang in the playoff discussion this season.

GRADES

A: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Hunter Renfroe, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Martín Pérez, Matt Barnes

B: Danny Santana, Kevin Plawecki, Enrique Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Eduard Bazardo, Adam Ottavino, Darwinzon Hernandez, Garrett Richards

C: Jonathan Araúz, Michael Chavis, Christian Vazquez, Garrett Whitlock, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta,

D: Bobby Dalbec, Christian Arroyo, Phillips Valdez

F: Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Andriese, Austin Brice, Colten Brewer

On the whole, the team performed well, and several players played up to expectations at the least, so I would give the team for the month of May a B. They played better in April, and against a lot more divisional opponents. Many of this month’s games were against non-divisional opponents, which may be a saving grace in the long game. In June they are up against a gauntlet of teams, playing the Astros six times, the Yankees six times, the Blue Jays four times, and the Rays three times, with only two off days the entire month.

Month Ahead

Three players I’m highlighting for the month of June: Garrett Whitlock, Nick Pivetta, and Eduardo Rodriguez, as I see them as the keys to potential success over the next month. Which Whitlock are we getting the rest of the way? He was excellent in April and merely acceptable in May. Is Eddie going to be a problem we need to solve later this year? Was May a mirage or a sign of ailments bothering him? Can Pivetta chill out with the base hits? He lowered his walk rate a lot, and he feels so close to figuring something out.