Red Sox Midseason Report Card

Posted: July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Saturday marks the halfway point of the Red Sox season, meaning it’s time to look back on the first half, hand out some grades and provide some analysis. Warning: lots of stats to follow (courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com).

Offense: A+
Remember when everyone was worried about whether or not the Sox would score enough runs this season? Remember when the offense got off to a slow start and all the talk was about how Theo Epstein had screwed up royally in the offseason, how he needed to trade for a bat right then and there, how it was already close to being an unsalvageable season?

I remember all of that. I also remember telling friends and family to be patient; there was still plenty of time for things to turn around. Boy do I feel smart right now.

The Sox currently rank first in the AL in runs, second in home runs, third in walks, third in batting average and first in OPS. All that despite starting outfielders Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury combining to play just 40 games so far.

Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz have all been phenomenal. They each rank in the top 10 in the AL in OPS at .983, .944 and .930, respectively. And to think that back in April, some fans were calling for Beltre to be benched in favor of Mike Lowell and for Ortiz to be cut. Oops.

In addition to the Sox’ version of the Big Three, Dustin Pedroia was on pace to put up similar numbers to his 2008 MVP season before suffering a broken foot that’s expected to keep him out until early or mid-August.

Marco Scutaro’s numbers are pretty much right where you’d expect them to be and Victor Martinez’ and J.D. Drew’s are only slightly below their career averages. Jason Varitek, Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava have all been more than pleasant surprises when called upon — Varitek wasn’t expected to do much of anything offensively and the latter two were completely unheard of before being called up. Bill Hall, who will continue to get a lot of playing time until Pedroia comes back, has been decent.

I’m sure some guys will slow down a little in the second half, but others could just as easily pick it up. I wasn’t worried about the offense before the season, and I’m certainly not worried now. If Ellsbury gets healthy and returns to the top of the lineup (let’s face it, this is more of an if than a when at this point), that would only help.

Defense: A-
Coming into the season, the counterpoint to the perceived lack of offense was how spectacular the defense was going to be. I won’t go so far as to say it’s been spectacular, but it’s certainly been very good.

You might argue that ranking fifth in the AL in fielding percentage and sixth in defensive efficiency doesn’t even qualify as very good, but those aren’t the best stats to use to judge a defense.

The Sox are first in total fielding runs above average and second to only the Rays in UZR. UZR was a big talking point this offseason, with those who understand it swearing by it and those who don’t mocking and dismissing it (looking at you, Chris Gasper). I don’t fully understand it and I don’t consider it a be-all, end-all fielding stat, but I understand it enough to know that it’s the best fielding stat we have right now. So being second in it isn’t too shabby.

Youkilis has oddly been a below-average fielder this season (I’d bet a lot of money that won’t be the case at the end of the season), but Pedroia, Scutaro, Beltre and Drew have all been great. None of the other outfielders have played enough games to properly judge them and there really isn’t a great way to judge catchers.

I don’t see any reason to think the defense won’t continue to be one of the best in the league in the second half. Losing Pedroia obviously hurts, but Youk’s almost-certain turnaround and an increasingly more comfortable Cameron should offset that.

Starting Pitching: C+
The Boston starters’ 37-20 record is the best in the AL, but that has a lot to do with the two categories above. After Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (both of whom are legitimate Cy Young candidates right now), the starting rotation has been a crapshoot.

Josh Beckett was terrible before being placed on the DL. John Lackey (who is somehow 9-3) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (whose starts are about as exciting to watch as water evaporating) have both been average at best. Tim Wakefield, who’s a slightly above-average pitcher for his career, has been a well below-average pitcher this year.

The inconsistency from the bottom three spots in the rotation shows in the rotation’s overall stats. Despite having two of the best starters in the league, Sox starters rank 10th in the AL in ERA and seventh in quality starts.

I expect Lackey to turn it around because his track record says he will and I think Lester and Buchholz will continue to dominate, although I am a little bit concerned about Buchholz being on pace to throw 180-plus innings for the first time in his career. If Beckett can be at least average when he comes back (which should be just after the All-Star break), this could be a very good rotation.

Relief Pitching: C-
More mediocrity from the pitching staff. The Boston bullpen has the second-most saves and second-most holds in the AL, but it also has the most blown saves (which includes “blown holds,” so it isn’t all Jonathan Papelbon). The final product is a 63-percent save percentage, third-worst in the AL.

Additionally, Sox relievers rank 10th in bullpen ERA and eighth in inherited runners scoring percentage. They have the most losses in relief of any over-.500 team.

The only reliever I can say anything good about right now is Daniel Bard — he’s been fantastic (2.04 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). Papelbon needs to return to his usual dominant form and Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez all need to get their crap together. Needless to say, I think bullpen help should be Theo’s No. 1 concern as the trade deadline approaches.

Overall: B+
I picked the Sox to win the wild card before the season started, and if the season ended today, they’d be the wild card. So they’re right where I expected them to be. But the last month-plus has made it feel like more than I expected given how great they’ve been in that time.

On May 21, the Sox were 22-21 and in fourth place, 8.5 games behind the Rays in the division and 4.5 games behind the Yankees for the wild card. Since that time, they’ve gone 25-11 to pull within 1.5 games of the Yanks for the division and take a one-game lead on the Rays for the wild card. That means they’ve been three games better than the Yanks and 9.5 games better than the Rays in that span.

Even I, the most patient of fans, was seriously concerned about the Sox’ playoff chances given how poorly they started and how well the Rays and Yanks started. But now I’m right back to my preseason predictions — I think they’ll win the wild card and I expect them to hang in the division race right to the end.

Today’s list: My 10 favorite Beatles songs
The greatest band of all-time by any credible account, so why not rank my 10 favorite songs of theirs?

10) For No One
9) The Fool on the Hill
8) Eleanor Rigby
7) Here Comes the Sun
6) Hey Jude
5) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
4) The Long and Winding Road
3) Something
2) Let It Be
1) A Day in the Life

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