Welcome to Volume 2, Edition 3 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 begins. The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Prospects, media members, Diego Segui, the cotton-candy vendor in section 4, Pat Dodson, front-office personnel — anyone is fair game. 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. Enough ballpark chatter. Let’s get to it …
1. Jose Iglesias
A little love and luck
Wade Boggs and Nomar Garciaparra probably strung together a hellacious couple of weeks-into-months like this. Ted Williams hit .407 with 13 homers and a 1.410 OPS in 110 plate appearances in 1953. I can’t recall seeing a Red Sox hitter hotter for a prolonged stretch than Manny Ramirez upon his arrival in Boston via Cleveland in 2001 – he went .408/.482/.735 in April and had 58 RBIs at the end of May. But I can’t recall a Sox player going on such an unexpected torrid tear like Jose Iglesias has this season. In 91 plate appearances in June, he put up a .402/.462/.537 slash line. For now I’ll forget the BABIP and any suggestions about how long it will last, because very time I expected it to end, it began again. Plus, you know, that defense. Exquisite.
2. John Lackey
Beloved fan-favorite? (and temporary staff ace)
He lights up Fenway with his smile …
… OK, maybe not yet. And he’s not really lighting up the radar gun, either. His average fastball velocity (91.4 miles per hour) is actually down a tick or two from his first two seasons in Boston, 2010-11. What he has done is rescue a rotation presumably left short by Clay Buchholz‘s injury and Jon Lester‘s recent ineffectiveness by pitching like the staff ace he was for so many years for the Angels. Lackey’s 2.99 ERA would be the best of his career, and remember, this is a guy who once won an ERA crown (3.01 for the ’07 Angels, when he won 19 games and finished third in the Cy Young voting). His 1.20 WHIP is the best of his career, as is his 4.29-1 K/BB ratio. And in 32.2 innings in June, he struck out 28 and walked 3. If only he’d been this healthy his entire time here.
3. David Ortiz
Doing it again
Going into this, I’d thought I’d have decision to make between Papi and Dustin Pedroia for this spot. But it was really no decision at all. Pedroia had a good month – he hit .293 with a .360 on-base percentage and a slightly-below-standard .784 OPS while playing his usual superb defense. Ortiz? He had a typical month – in other words, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. He batted .296 with a .415 on-base percentage and a .612 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.027 OPS, folks. Papi just keeps chugging along, one smoked line drive at a time.
4. Koji Uehara
Leads the league in high-fives
Yeah, he gave up the lead Sunday and vultured a win. Tough to get mad at this guy after all he’s done for the bullpen this season (1.91 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 35 appearances entering Saturday). Besides, can you think of a recent Sox player whose acquisition flew under the radar but who turned out to be essential to the team’s success and an absolute blast to watch? Maybe Kevin Millar or Bill Mueller in ’03, though the circumstances and personalities were quite different. I’m not sure there have been many who have provided as much unexpected fun as Uehara has this year.
5. Rubby De La Rosa
The next K-Rod? Wouldn’t go that far, but …
I’m not sure what the formula for creating a lights-out closer happens to be. Maybe it’s something as simple as repertoire-plus-opportunity. But I do know that closers are made, not born (even the great Mariano Rivera is a converted starter), and there’s a decent possibility that the relief ace the Red Sox seem to need right now is currently working as a starter in Pawtucket. In his last 10 games, all starts, De La Rosa has a 0.79 ERA. In 45.2 innings, he’s allowed just 26 hits, walked 17, and whiffed 48. In June, he had a 1.01 ERA in five starts. The Red Sox are stretching out his arm, but his extraordinary fastball-changeup combo may lend itself to relief in the short term. He came up for a day in mid-June. The next time he comes up, it will be to perform in a role that matters.
A step down the ladder
In retrospect, there should have been more concern about that 13/70 BB/K rate last year. But because he was one of the few salvations in a wretched ’12 season – he did hit .288 with 15 home runs, an impressive debut by any measure – it was all too easy to overlook the fundamental flaws. I don’t think we’ll look back on his ’12 season the way Braves fans look back on Jeff Francoeur‘s brilliant, misleading debut in 2005. Middlebrooks has confidence, a genuine work ethic, and the raw talent to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for the better part of a decade, a .270, 25-30-homer guy. He just needs to solve some things. He’s not the first young player it happened to – heck, in Alex Rodriguez‘s first 208 big-league plate appearances over his first two seasons, he had nine walks and 62 strikeouts.
Once there were two closers …
Brutal. Just brutal. In eight innings over 10 games in June, Bailey walked seven while allowing 12 hits, including five home runs. In 40 plate appearances, hitters rapped him around for a .375/.487/.844 slash line, which means he essentially turned every batter he faced into (ahem) Jose Iglesias. Ramiro Mendoza never had a month that bad, and he was embedded.
Never make Ortiz run hard. Ever.
As far as I can recall – and that’s about 35 years now – DeMarlo Hale is the best third-base coach the Red Sox have had. The worst? Wendell Kim, whose wave-’em-in right arm was a perpetually malfunctioning propeller. After half a season, I’d say Butterfield falls toward the Hale side of things, with one caveat: Do not, under any circumstances, send David Ortiz home-bound unless it’s a certainty that he’s going to be safe. He missed half of last season and the first few weeks of this one with an Achilles’ injury. He is crushing the baseball. He is, semi-miraculously, healthy and as good as ever. He cannot be replaced. It is foolish to put him at risk for a shot at a single run in the third inning of the 82d game of the season. Otherwise, keep up the good work.
No more grievances to air
I’ve got nothin’ else
I suppose I could muster up a gripe for Shane Victorino‘s Trot-like, here-I-am-hustlin’ self-inflicted collision with the wall Tuesday night against the Rockies … but there he was winning the game Saturday, the Red Sox’ seventh walk-off win of the season. It was the Red Sox’ 50th win of the season in their 84th game. They end June with 19 fewer wins than they had all of last season. They went 17-11 in the month, lead the AL East by 2.5 games, and they’re fun — when one teammate falters, another steps up. There’s really nothing to complain about, and there’s certainly no need for false outrage. If only all bridge years were this enjoyable.
PREVIOUS 2013 POWER RANKINGS
April: Buchholz, Entire Cast of Veteran Newcomers, Farrell, Nava, Ortiz.
May: Pedroia, Buchholz, Saltalamacchia, Breslow, Bogaerts.