The Red Sox offense early on in the 2022 season has been a disappointment no matter which way you slice it. They’re in the bottom half of the league in runs, as well as the bottom third in wRC+, position player fWAR, and Isolated Power. There’s certainly every reason to expect that will change as the season will go on and they will not continue to be among the worst groups in all of baseball for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real issues here. As we’ve talked about before, the bottom of the lineup is a mess, and the position currently under the most scrutiny is first base. Travis Shaw has provided nothing off the bench, and Bobby Dalbec isn’t providing much more in the starting lineup. When you factor in that one of the team’s two best prospects is at Triple-A playing that same position, you can imagine that the calls for Triston Casas are only increasing in volume. Is it time for them to make a move, though?
Let’s start with the Travis Shaw of it all, because it sure seems like he could be the first position player on the roster to get taken off the roster. The veteran has only played in six games and gotten 17 plate appearances, but he’s looked totally lost. In fact, he has yet to reach base, hitting a cool .000/.000/.000 while striking out six times, or 35 percent of the time. It’s a small sample, but when you consider that he has a 65 wRC+ since the start of 2019, meaning he’s been 35 percent worse than the league-average hitter, I don’t think it’s rash to think he’s not a great option for a team that wants to contend.
So I think it’s both fair and likely that Shaw is going to be taken off the roster sooner than later. However, that doesn’t mean Casas is going to come up to take his spot. There is some match here in role in that both players are lefties and could complement Dalbec’s right-handed bat. That said, Shaw has not been anything close to even a platoon player, and it wouldn’t make much sense to call up Casas at this point in the season just to sit on the bench pretty much every game. If he was to come up soon, it would have to be a decision that Dalbec needs to lose playing time.
That also is not an unreasonable stance, though, because Dalbec is not having the start to the season he was hoping for after his big August and September in 2021. Early on in this season, through his first 68 plate appearances, the 26-year-old has hit a rough .161/.221/.258 for a 37 wRC+. Among qualified hitters in baseball, only 10 have been worse to start this season by this metric. Things are only getting worse, too. Dalbec hasn’t really had a hot streak this season, per se, but at the outset he was at least being more disciplined than we saw in the first half and keeping his strikeout rate down in an acceptable range. That rate is now climbing to just under 30 percent at this point, and more concerning is that his chase rate is climbing with it. When you throw on top of that a lack of power and general hard contact when he does put the ball in play, the trends are just not providing any reason for optimism.
Then there’s the Casas of it all, and he’s had just about the same number of plate appearances at Triple-A as Dalbec has had in the majors. It goes without saying that the level of competition is not comparable and we’re not making a direct comparison in numbers, but the 22-year-old is off to a nice start in Worcester, hitting .239/.373/.463. The batting average is certainly not where you want it, but his strikeout rate is a manageable 23 percent, and he’s walking at a huge 17 percent rate to go with his .224 Isolated Power.
I think there are two different questions that need to be asked when it comes to this scenario. The first is whether or not the team will call up Casas and give him significant playing time over Dalbec, or even if the latter gets optioned to get at bats at Triple-A. I think the answer right now is a clear no. My sense is that they want to give Dalbec more time to snap out of this streak, which isn’t unfair. If you think there’s a real chance of him making an adjustment and getting back to being an above-average bat, you kind of have to let things play out because once you call up Casas, you can’t really hit the undo button. At that point, Dalbec is mostly relegated to a bench role on this team.
The other question is whether or not the team should call up Casas. This one for me is a little more complicated. When I started writing this I was actually firmly in the camp that it’s not time for the move yet. I’m extremely high on Casas, but he’s only played 28 games at Triple-A and he’s been more good than great. The more I think about it, though, the less rash it is seeming. For one, Casas is very good, and that high walk rate he’s carried this year and throughout his pro career is exactly what this lineup needs. On top of that, the Dalbec numbers just look so concerning no matter what area of his game you want to look. This is not a division where you want to keep giving up games, and if you think Casas is a better option right now than Dalbec you kind of need to pull that trigger.
Ultimately, my expectation is that Dalbec will be given another month to prove that he’s earned more leash. I suspect the Red Sox will go to a three-man bench next week when rosters are cut to 26, and Shaw will lose his spot on the roster and be replaced by a pitcher. But when pitching staffs must be cut to 13 arms at the end of May, if Dalbec is still a black hole at the bottom of the lineup, Casas will get his chance. They just have to hope the hole in the division doesn’t get so large that the decision doesn’t matter by the time it comes.