By the time we reach Game 81, as the Red Sox will tonight, the math is easy. Depending on a win or a loss, the Red Sox will be on pace for 92 or 94 wins. Jon Lester is on pace to win 20 games. Adrian Gonzalez is on pace to knock in more than 140 runs and Jacoby Ellsbury cruising toward 50 steals.
What better time to give midterm grades than at the precise midpoint of the 2011 Red Sox season? Overall, the Red Sox have done fine, though the last 10 days have set them back some. Boston has lost three straight series entering this weekend’s three-game set with the Houston Astros, and a division that seemed in their control now belongs to the New York Yankees.
As such, the aggregate grade for this club falls somewhere in the range of a B or B-minus, particularly after the Sox talked during spring training of winning 100 games. Flaws have been exposed, as is the case with every team, and the trading deadline beckons.
Here is one sampling of midterm grades for the 2011 Red Sox, in alphabetical order.
(Minimum: 10 appearances or five starts)
Alfredo Aceves (B+) – Take away one positively rancid start against the Chicago White Sox and Aceves has checked in with a 2.82 ERA in 19 outings. Meanwhile, he has started (four games), closed (one save) and done just about everything in between. Human joint compound. Nice pickup.
Daniel Bard (B+) – True fact: among all American League pitchers with at least 20 innings, Bard ranks second in WHIP to only Baltimore's Koji Uehara. So why the relatively low grade? Because he’s also absorbed four losses, tied for third-most among all AL relievers. Keep an eye on him in August and September. He hit a little bit of a wall last year.
Josh Beckett (A) – Forget the won-lost record. Beckett ranks second in the league in ERA and has been very consistent, despite his last outing. In his three losses, the Red Sox have scored a total of one run. If he had the same run support Jon Lester has been getting, he’d have 10 wins, too.
Clay Buchholz (B) – Buchholz has settled in quite nicely after a shaky start, going 5-0 with a 2.59 ERA in his last nine outings. Despite last season, 15 wins should still be the goal for someone like him, and Buchholz would be right on pace were it not for a back ailment that landed him on the disabled list. Durability always has been a question with him – and it remains so.
Bobby Jenks (D-) – A complete failure? No. But it’s close. Jenks has shown flashes during his first season with the Red Sox, but he’s also walked 13 in 13.2 innings and posted a 7.24 ERA. Meanwhile, he’s gone to the disabled list twice, raising the question as to whether the Sox need bullpen help. Hmmm. Maybe the Red Sox should think about keeping Jonathan Papelbon after all.
John Lackey (F) – Whether the performance is the result of an elbow injury or personal matters, certain truths are impossible to get past. Baseball is a results oriented business; if you’re out there, you’re expected to perform. Among the 62 AL pitchers with at least 60 innings, Lackey ranks 62nd in ERA. Let’s hope the last start was the beginning of something better.
Jon Lester (A-) – Lester had to grind his way for a while there, but his performance yesterday put him on pace for 20 wins for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, he is now 71-29 in his career, ranking second all-time in winning percentage for all pitchers with at least 100 decisions. Truly one of the most competitive pitchers in the game. Love that.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (C) – Prior to the season-ending elbow injury, Matsuzaka had some good starts and some bad ones, which pretty much categorizes his entire Sox career. In the end, for an assortment of reasons, he was unreliable. Meanwhile, nobody has really lamented his absence. Doesn’t that alone speak volumes?
Jonathan Papelbon (A) – Toss the ERA out the window. When Papelbon has entered in a save situation this season, the Red Sox have gone a perfect 16-0. Pretty big difference from last year, eh? Beyond that, after suffering seven losses last season, he does not have a single defeat in 2011. Looks like someone geared up for a contract year.
Tim Wakefield (B) – Here’s a scary question: were it not for Wakefield and Aceves, where would this team be? Since the Red Sox began giving him a regular turn, Wakefield has a 4.11 ERA in seven starts. In retrospect, Wakefield has been far more effective than Matsuzaka was, making him a nice contributor at the end of the rotation. The obvious question now: will age and durability be a factor in the second half?
Dan Wheeler (F) – The Red Sox tried to give Wheeler some responsibility early in the year, but he failed miserably. As such, they now use him almost exclusively when they are behind. The Sox are 8-15 in Wheeler’s appearances, which speaks volumes, and now let there be no doubt: he’s strictly a matchup guy against righthanders, who are batting .237 against him. Lefties, meanwhile, have an OPS of 1.007.
INCOMPLETE – Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Rich Hill, Tommy Hottovy, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Hideki Okajima, Dennys Reyes.
(Minimum: 50 at-bats)
Mike Cameron (F) – Whether it was the worst signing of Theo Epstein’s tenure as general manager is up to you – but it’s certainly in the conversation. Cameron was signed to be the starting center fielder, remember, and his stint here was a train wreck. Now that he has lost the ability to hit lefthanders, it might be time to hang 'em up – and he should have no shame in doing so.
Carl Crawford (D) – Crawford bottomed out at the end of April, when he was batting .155, and he has since hit .295 with a .794 OPS. Still, among the 30 AL outfielders with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Crawford ranks 26th in OPS. That would be fine if he were Josh Reddick. But when you’re toting an annual $20 million price tag, that isn’t going to cut it.
J.D. Drew (F) – Know what the scary thing is? He actually got off to a good start, going 8 for 26 to start the season. Since, he certainly has looked as if he has checked out and gone into retirement mode. Of Drew’s 44 hits this year, 35 are singles. He has more strikeouts (47) than hits. Nobody is more responsible for the fact that the Red Sox rank last in baseball in OPS from their right fielders.
Jacoby Ellsbury (A) – Ellsbury’s steals have dipped some, but his overall productivity has gone up. Which would you rather have? The Red Sox rank second in the AL in OPS from their center fielders and third in on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters. All of that is a reflection on Ellsbury, who hasn’t missed a game. Nice comeback.
Adrian Gonzalez (A+) – Deep breath here: .378 vs. righthanders, .300 vs. lefthanders, .380 at home, .325 on the road, .336 during the day, .359 at night, .338 on grass, .484 on turf, .314 in April, .341 in May, .404 in June, .310 with the bases empty, .390 with men on base, .380 with men in scoring position, .375 with the bases loaded. And no errors.
Jed Lowrie (C+) – Remember that insane start, during which Lowrie posted a .431 average in his first 16 games? Well after that, he batted 214 with a .577 OPS in his next 39 games. Now he’s hurt again. Add in the fact that Lowrie is batting .206 against righthanders and we’re back to thinking he’s a utility player. In baseball, after all, the more you play, the tougher it gets.
Darnell McDonald (F) – McDonald was one of the great stories on the Red Sox last season, but he’s given them virtually nothing this season. McDonald’s job is to hit lefties, against whom he’s batted .212. With men on base, he’s 2 for 28 (an .071 average) with nine strikeouts. Still, the Sox kept him over Cameron, which should tell you plenty about how they viewed Cameron.
David Ortiz (A) – Given all the questions that have existed about him, Ortiz has been both consistent and productive, particularly against lefthanded pitching (a .341 average). If you’re looking to nitpick, he has batted just .203 with runners in scoring position, and just .167 with men in scoring position and two outs. Still, the Red Sox have the best DH in the league again – and by a wide margin.
Dustin Pedroia (B-) – What’s really been missing, more than anything, are the doubles. Pedroia has a screw in his foot, as we all know, but the Lackey rule applies here, too: if you're out there, you’re expected to perform. The .240 average against righthanders suggests Pedroia has been a little more pull-happy than usual, but let’s not get too picky. We expect a lot from this guy because he’s good, competitive and accountable. And Pedroia at 80 percent is still better than the majority of the league.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (B) – Let’s tell you up front that Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek are getting the same grade for an obvious reason: they’re a tandem. After a horrific start, the Red Sox now rank third in the AL in OPS from their catchers – and that is no small achievement. The defense remains suspect, but Saltalamacchia has stabilized – and so has the position in general.
Marco Scutaro (C) – Shortstop hasn’t turned out to be quite the problem area that, say, right field has become, but there is room for improvement here. Scutaro ranks in the middle of the pack among AL shortstops offensively, and the job is now his to lose. If the defense slips in the second half, one can’t help but wonder if Jose Iglesias will factor in. Until then, the Red Sox are getting by.
Jason Varitek (B) – Among 21 AL catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Saltalamacchia ranks fifth in OPS, just a whisker ahead of his mentor, Varitek, who ranks sixth. Varitek has kept up in runs scored (20-18, Salty), homers (five each), RBI (20-17, Salty), batting average (.253-.248, Salty), on-base percentage (.333-.320, Varitek) and slugging (.432-.419, Salty). Each has a .752 OPS. What symmetry.
Kevin Youkilis (B-) – The production numbers ultimately look fine – Youkilis is on pace for 22 homers and 111 RBI – but it’s been a grind at times. For what it’s worth, he’s also hitting .173 on the road (as opposed to .370 at home). One of the other issues is that his defense has been disappointing, arguably among the worst at the position in the league. We weren’t expecting Brooks Robinson, but he should be better.
INCOMPLETE – Jose Iglesias, Josh Reddick, Drew Sutton.
Theo Epstein and Terry Francona (B) – The general manager and manager will earn their money in the coming months, when the fate of the 2011 Red Sox will decided. Until then, there are no major issues. The Sox seemed unprepared to start the season but recovered nicely, though management has seemed a little indecisive at times with regard to Carl Crawford’s place in the batting order, the catching situation and right field, including the decision to move Gonzalez from first base to right for a game.
Nonetheless, this team is not far off its projected pace, and management’s primary job is to make sure that things keep moving at the proper speed.
That said, the second half will determine the ultimate grades for Sox officials, particularly given the importance of the trading deadline. At the very least, this Red Sox team should absolutely, positively be playing for the AL championship in October. If that doesn’t happen, we will all have the right to wonder how and where the Sox failed.