2022 In One Sentence
Despite some intermittent flashes of clutch hitting, Bobby Dalbec simply struck out too often to stick at first base.
It’s not just the boyish smile, charisma, and personality that draw fans to Bobby Dalbec. He’s a bonafide power hitter, and has been heralded as such from his debut. Bobby Dalbec started his career by hitting 8 home runs in 23 games in the abbreviated 2020 season. He had an impressive .338 isolated power metric in that season, and followed up his rookie year with a 25 home run 2021 campaign. Even in a 2022 season that included a decrease in… well, pretty much every metric imaginable, 9 of his 12 home runs either put the Red Sox ahead on the scoreboard. That’s, well, clutch!
What is not as clutch, of course, is Dalbec’s outrageous struggle to make contact. Bobby has a 34.9% career strikeout percentage compared to just a 7.5% walk rate. His batting average hovered around .200 in 2022, and often blipped below that Mendoza Line, before eventually settling in at .215. That’s simply too much swing-and-miss for a starting player in this league, even with strikeout rates on the rise across baseball. His fielding errors flattened out from 12 in 2021 to 5 in 2022, but you would not know it from the magnitude of those errors, as he appeared to be a liability in the field. If the errors are forgivable, the lack of bat explosiveness and the strikeout rate weren’t; and so as a result (and perhaps of a result of Casas’ prospective impact on the team) Dalbec experienced his first demotion to AAA Worcester since his debut.
As I stated before, Dalbec’s home runs frequently came in high leverage situations, which made it tough to select just one as his best moment. July 27, when Dalbec hit two two-run home runs and a sacrifice fly in a 7-6 loss against the Guardians, would appear to be a shoo-in. But all things considered, I’d prefer to pick a moment that came in a game the Red Sox ultimately ended up winning, so the bullpen’s inability to close down the game knocked this off the list. Likewise, the June 11 ninth-inning home run in his hometown of Seattle isn’t number one, either. So if I’m only considering Red Sox wins, I have to go with the go-ahead solo shot he had on April 10 to put the Sox ahead of the Yankees, for the sole fact that… well, it was against the Yankees.
The Big Question
With Triston Casas’ emergence, is there a spot for Bobby Dalbec on the Red Sox?
Honestly, probably not in the long term, though the Red Sox are putting a lot of effort into making people think otherwise. Triston Casas has all the makings of a guy who can last at first base if he also learns to hit lefties (and if he isn’t shipped off elsewhere). The other 2022 solution at first base, the much older but more tenured Eric Hosmer, is now a Chicago Cub after being released by the team. Justin Turner has played at first a bit, but he’s also much older, and the team does not seem to be entertaining the idea of Rafael Devers playing anywhere else but at third base.
At 27, Dalbec still has a lot of playing time ahead of him. He’s also still has less than six years of service time, so he comes cheap. But, the bat needs work, and it’s work that a simple soft AAA reset may not be enough to cover.
2023 and Beyond
Dalbec’s propensity for seeing a third strike is beginning to catch up with him. It’s affected his stock, and you have to wonder if the Red Sox are seeing a decline in trade offers for the first baseman’s services as a result. That answer is probably yes, but like many others before him, Dalbec may be too good, his bat too powerful, his fielding not poor enough, to hide in AAA, at least for a non-contender, or perhaps a team without a 200 million dollar payroll. It’s a dangerous catch-22. But for a team whose fanbase wants and deserves a contender year in and year out — and has the payroll to match those expectations — a player who strikes out more than once a game (313 strikeouts in 273 games for Dalbec) should probably not be in the plans for much longer. The problem with that is, does the front office know we’re trying to contend?