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Red Sox power rankings: April and on

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 6, 2013 06:37 AM

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Remember back about 17 years ago, when geographic whiz Roger Clemens assured us he'd never leave Boston for anywhere but Texas ... then shockingly bolted to Toronto when the Jays offered the most briefcases full of cash? Don't you sort of wish the current Red Sox could do the same? You know, skip out on all trips to Texas, which never seem to go well, and just stay north of the border to beat up on the overhyped Jays?

Ah, well, the baseball schedule-maker isn't so accommodating. So here we are in May, with the Sox at 2-3 in the month – the two wins coming at Toronto, and the three losses coming in Arlington, where I don't believe they have won a series since Bump Wills was the Rangers' second baseman.

But before we move deeper into the season's second month, let's take one last look back at the first by welcoming you to Volume 2, Edition 1 of Red Sox power rankings, a wide-ranging excuse to write about the best and worst performers of the previous month as a new one gets rolling. (You'll recall, or perhaps you won't, that I did this a season ago before abandoning it when I went to London and the Red Sox went somewhere far south of there, reportedly traveling via handbasket.)

The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Media members, Spike Owen, prospects, front-office personnel, Jackie Gutierrez – anyone is fair game to be ranked. It's a measure of the exceptional and the unacceptable, with the middle ground unacknowledged. The top five are ranked; the bottom five are not since our pool of candidates is innumerable. Let's get to the rankings, which based on how the season started really could consist of nothing but good news ...

TOP FIVE
1. Clay Buchholz
Is a 355 adjusted ERA good? That's good, right?
To answer the question, yes, Buchholz's 355 ERA+ in April is rather good – for the sabermetrically disinclined, it means that his ERA is 255 percent better than the league average. And here's the thing – it got better with his first start in May, a seven-inning, two-hit blanking of the Blue Jays that essentially had Jays broadcasters Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst calling him the modern-day Gaylord Perry. Buchholz's adjusted ERA is now 427, which is pretty much unfathomable. He won't sustain this current pace, because not even Pedro Martinez could do that. But you know what? I completely believe in him. At 28 and grown up, he is the ace he was always supposed to be, and actually, subtly was in 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and a league-best 187 ERA+. Finally, the Red Sox have Buchholz in full.

2. Most of the veteran newbies
Still wish they'd signed Josh Hamilton instead?
You see what he was trying to do now, right? Ben Cherington spent the offseason signing reasonably accomplished, upper-middle-class caliber, well-regarded veterans to short deals for good money, essentially building the proverbial bridge to the future with likable players who had a reasonable, if not certain, chance of having a good year. Almost all of the signings – Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes – were greeted with shrugs and skepticism. Almost all of them have contributed in a meaningful way to the Red Sox' fast start while pretty much instantly winning over the fan base. There may not be a superstar in the bunch, but they are good at their jobs and very easy to root for, and that's more than enough.

3. Manager John Farrell
And featuring Juan Nieves, Brian Butterfield, Torey Lovullo, and a coaching staff of actual grown-ups
Really, there's not much more to say than that. The Red Sox are forced to be accountable and prepared now that they are managed by someone whose first concern isn't how he's perceived or who is on his side. I don't think Farrell is flawless as a manager – I worry about overuse for Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, and their aggressiveness on the bases sometimes feels reckless. But he's very good and just what they needed, and with each competent decision he makes, the choice to go with Bobby Valentine last year becomes even more of a joke.

4. Daniel Nava
He belongs
It's easy to forget – or it was easy for me to forget, anyway – that Nava was pretty damn good at the beginning of last season. Identifying him as a valuable major league player was one thing Bobby Valentine got right. Nava had a .277/.424/.477 slash line in May '12, then had a better June (.324/.419/.473). Then he understandably slowed down a little bit, got hurt, and nitwits like me raced to write him off, mistakenly giving more credence to his baseball pedigree than his performance. Lesson learned.

5. David Ortiz
Picking up where he left off, and then some
I was among those – and it felt like a minority – who were glad the Red Sox brought back Ortiz, even on a two-year deal, and even after he missed 72 games a season ago with an Achilles' injury that lingered all the way through the winter and into spring training. It was easy to forget because it felt like a long time ago, but he was one of the most effective hitters in the game last season, finishing with a 1.023 OPS – 24 points higher than that of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. The 2013 Red Sox needed someone like that in the middle of the order. But did anyone expect this? Through his first 55 plate appearances, Papi is batting .440 with a 1.313 OPS, and his 17 RBIs are good for second on the team.

BOTTOM FIVE
Will Middlebrooks
Struggling to hit the heat
How does a player who hit three homers and a double in a single game manage to own just a .389 slugging percentage through 30 games? It's quite a dubious feat, but it does tell you how much the second-year third baseman has struggled save for his one hellacious game against R.A. Dickey and the Jays April 7. In his other 29 games this season, Middlebrooks is hitting .167 with three homers and eight RBIs and a .314 slugging percentage in 108 at-bats. It's easy to say he's too talented for this to go on much longer, but what's particularly alarming is that it's not junk that's getting him out. He's struggling with fastballs. He's seeing the hard stuff 57.7 percent of the time (about five percent more often than last year), and he's 4.7 runs below average against fastballs this year after being 4.2 percent above a season ago.


Alfredo Aceves
Lunatic fringe
In case you were wondering, the One Bad Apple is 1-0 since being pointed toward Pawtucket, having allowed two hits and four walks in six innings while whiffing six in his lone start so far. You weren't wondering, were you? OK, so how about this: Tyler Cloyd of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs was the International League Pitcher of the Year last season. Perhaps being his successor is something for Aceves to strive for. With a a 6.44 ERA in the second half last year and was at a stellar 8.66 this season before his demotion, that's more likely than counting on major-league success from him anytime soon.

Stephen Drew
"The nerve to be J.D.'s brother"
Thought my colleague Peter Abraham nailed it with this blog post a few weeks ago regarding Drew, which includes the above quote as well as the reminder that he had just 18 plate appearances in spring training before suffering a concussion. It's understood why so many fans are enamored with Jose Iglesias's shiny defense – it's a joy to watch. But Drew is an above-average defensive shortstop who, when healthy, is far more well-rounded than Iglesias (currently putting up a .235/.278/.397 line at Pawtucket). And his bat is coming around – he has a .778 OPS over the past two weeks. Give him a chance. If he's anything like the player he was in Arizona, you'll like him. Even if it's begrudgingly.

Joel Hanrahan
Just do what Bailey was doing
I wasn't thrilled with the acquisition, and he hasn't pitched well ... and yet I kind of believe in him. Does that make sense? Probably not, so a quick explanation. I was skeptical that Hanrahan, whose entire six-year Major League career before this season was spent pitching for the Nationals and Pirates, had the stuff to adjust to the American League East. (I had no concerns about his makeup – his easygoing manner lends itself to quickly forgetting about a bad day.) Even though he pitched poorly before going on the disabled list a couple of weeks into the season, there were encouraging signs to be found. His average fastball velocity according to Fangraphs has been 96.8 miles per hour, second-highest of his career, and more importantly, his pitches had outstanding movement. This is not Schiraldi redux, and I'm willing to assume that his command issues were in part due to his leg injury.

I don't really have another one
I mean, they were 18-8, right?
Perhaps May will deliver more reasons for grievances. There will be some overall regression, because this team isn't winning 116 games. Maybe the Rangers series is a sign it's already happening. But overall, this is still going to be a good team, probably a very good one, and I think April ends up being a reasonable representation of who they really are. If you want to gripe about Jarrod Saltalamacchia's strikeouts or Andrew Miller's control issues or Dustin Pedroia's lack of power, go for it. I'll just take it to mean that you're an incurable cynic, because given what we've witnessed since September 2011, I know a month like the first one of this season is one to savor, not nitpick.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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