It's the All-Star break, which means that while we all take these blissful few days of respite from the flaming trainwreck that is the Red Sox' 2014 season, we still have to hand our first half grades. Now let's get it over with so we can go back to not wringing hands over this mess until the proceedings resume Friday night at Fenway.
Infield - No discussion of the Sox infield can really begin without immediately addressing the May signing of Stephen Drew for the bargain price of $10 million and the subsequent shifting of Xander Bogaerts to third base. The Sox weren't all that great when Drew arrived in Cleveland on June 2 but they descended to the depths of baseball afterward. The start of Bogaerts' mammoth slump (.304/.395/.464 on June 3, .235/.311/.348 today), which is now well into its second month, almost directly coincided with Drew showing up, making it tough to dismiss the idea that there’s no relationship between the two. Those numbers, along with Drew’s (.151/.218/.269) are the baseball equivalent of lighting a pile of dog crap on fire and leaving it on your loud, obnoxious neighbor's doorstep
The epic disasters of Bogaerts and Drew dominate the discussion, taking some heat off of Dustin Pedroia. The little guy has heated up with the weather but man, so many singles. His slugging percentage, as has been well documented, is down 70 points from 2012. Ahem, David Eckstein. Ouch, that smarts just to type.
Bonus points here for Will Middlebrooks missing extended time for the third consecutive season and losing his job as the team's starting third baseman for the third time in barely a year. Hey, at least he's marrying well. And for the sake of time, space, and sanity, we'll include catcher with the rest of the infielders and point out that the Sox were 39-51 with A.J. Pierzynski and his zero homers since June 1, but are 4-1 without him. IT’S ALL A.J.’S FAULT! HE WAS NEVAH A TRUE SAWX!
So even with Mike Napoli having a perfectly typical Mike Napoli-esque year, and Brock Holt, the boyish baseball cyborg, contributing (although more in the outfield these past six weeks) this group get a big fat C-minus.
Outfield - If you already knew that even with Jackie Bradley Jr.’s recent uptick, the Sox' combined outfield numbers still remain on pace to be among the worst of all time, you’re not only clearly paying attention, you also may be watching this team on TV a little too much. Seriously, it’s the middle of the summer and they’re in last place. Go outside more.
Sports On Earth/Over the Monster’s Matthew Kory pointed out earlier in the week that last year’s Sox outfield led the league in WAR but has dropped to 19th at the All-Star break. This is actually a reason for optimism, he states, as that’s up from dead last not too long ago. It’s not really Bradley, Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, and, to a lesser extent given their respective absences, Shane Victorino and Grady Sizemore’s fault that the team’s front office made zero contingency plans in the case of injury or regression. Every regular Sox outfielder was expected to either show up and duplicate his career year from last season (Gomes, Nava, Victorino), be the same guy he was when he last played every day five years ago (Sizemore), or not suffer any real growing pains upon his first full season of being an every day player (Bradley). But the drop-off has been so extreme, that even accounting for a slip couldn’t have possible led any sane human being to predict the depths to which this group has fallen.
It can’t stay this bad all year, can it? Even if Nava and his 10, count em, 10 RBI peaked at .303/.385/.445 last year, he has to be better than this, doesn’t he? We may soon find out as Gomes more than likely will be first in line on the trading block given his knack for hitting lefties and not needing to play every day. The Sox say Victorino, as durable as your grandmother, will be back this weekend against Kansas City but I’ll believe he can run up the first base line without grabbing at his leg/back/name a body part when I see it. A four-man rotation of Bradley, Holt (the brightest light in the Sox outfield all year in just over six weeks of work), Nava, and Mookie Betts feels like the best bet for the remainder of the year and that’s just fine. Anything would be better than what the Sox have run out there up to this point and that’s a steaming pile of D-plus. Only Bradley’s Gold Glove defense in center saves this one from a straight fail.
Designated Hitter - David Ortiz. Fine.
Homers and RBIs (20, 64)? Good, typical.
OPS down over 100 points from last year? Gross.
Times when it’d have been better if he’d stopped talking? A few too many, more or less.
By Ortiz's high standards, he's been pretty good, not great. And that earns him a B.
Pitching - The starters are a mixed bag. We all know how great Jon Lester is and what he’s accomplished thus far as one of the Sox two All-Stars. Hey wouldn’t it be great if he signed a long-term deal to stay in Boston? Wonder why that hasn’t happened yet?
After that, there’s a bit of a drop. John Lackey has 10 wins, a solid ERA and WHIP (3.79, 1.26), some nice advanced numbers (105 ERA+, 3.53 FIP), and has been mostly the same, tough, gritty No. 2 he was last year, but he’s looked as in need of this current break as anyone the past couple weeks. Jake Peavy, a smart, helpful pickup last year, is basically a No. 4 at best and while he’s had some terrible luck as this year’s designated no-run support guy, he’s taking valuable innings away from younger, more impressive parts of the organization’s future like Rubby De La Rosa and (until around the first of the month) Brandon Workman. He’s a goner and everyone, including Peavy himself, knows it.
Clay Buchholz hasn’t disappointed anyone who feels he’s the Sox' biggest mystery since the heady days of Robinson Checo with his nauseating first two months and subsequent bounce back following one of his annual trips to the DL. His masterpiece on Sunday against the Astros was simultaneously terrific and a massive bummer. WHY CAN’T HE BE THAT GUY FOR MORE THAN 10-15 STARTS EVERY COUPLE OF YEARS???
Let’s not talk about Felix Doubront so we can get to one of the few positives of this dismal season, the bullpen. Aside from the Edward Mujica calamity, the pen is this team’s biggest strength. The ERA is 3.38 and that includes Mujica’s 5.45 and Breslow’s 5.18 (and the since departed Chris Capuano’s 4.55). Koji Uehara, despite a couple of day game hiccups, has been almost as brilliant as last year and Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa represent as formidable a lefty/righty set-up combo as any in all of baseball. Get those guys a lead through six innings and that should do it. If only it were that easy… B-minus.
Manager - I kind of feel bad for John Farrell. After two seasons in Toronto best described as "fair to middling," he swooped in to Boston for the price of Mike Aviles, and proved himself the best conceivable choice to clean up the stinking, rotting mess left by Bobby Valentine, driving the bus straight to a championship. Now, less than a year later, nothing he tries works, he’s been left completely out to dry by the front office, and most of the players he depended on so dearly in 2013 who are still here have fallen off the cliff. I can’t even imagine what goes through his mind in the dugout watching every failure at the plate, every shoddy pitching performance on days when his hitters are actually swinging the bats, every damn rally killing double play. If the poor guy is having an identity crisis or wakes up some days not knowing where the hell he is, can you really blame him?
He’s not without blame here. As with any manager, some of the in-game decisions can be a bit, well, odd. He had to have played a leading role in Drew’s return given his outward, public affection for the player. And it remains to be seen what sort of effect he’ll ultimately have on the Sox truckload of young talent (his handling of Bogaerts in particular doesn’t necessarily portend a positive outcome). But on the list of people to blame for this horrid season, he’s not near the top and therefore gets a C.
Front Office - Ben Cherington deserved to be named Executive of the Year in 2013. Every move he made worked perfectly and paid off handsomely. And if there is some sort of bizarro trophy for 2014, he’s the leader in the clubhouse for it with 67 games left to play.
Each Sox player who hasn’t performed up to his capabilities has earned every last iota of criticism that’s come his way. But Cherington hasn’t done any of them, or Farrell for that matter, any favors both in terms of what he’s done and what he hasn’t. First, see Pierzynski, Mujica, Drew, Sizemore, Capuano. Those were the free agents he brought in. Three were cut before the All-Star break and if the public outcry for signing him in the first place wouldn’t be loud enough to shatter glass, you could make the argument that Drew would be next on the chopping block.
Next, look at the lack of any semblance of an attempt to deepen the outfield, which has resulted in those historically bad numbers while forcing still developing players like Betts and Holt (who, to his credit, has handled all the moving around with aplomb thanks to the fact that he’s a baseball robot) to learn new positions on the fly. And while Cherington has rightly and honorably admitted to his mistakes, the fact is he still made them. Which is why he’s completed the staggering tumble from a straight A to a straight F.