Welcome to Volume 3, 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 begins. The only rule of the power rankings is that there are no rules to the power rankings. Prospects, suspects, Jim Rice, pine-tarred necks, Steve Lyons, front-office personnel — anyone and everything 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. Mike Napoli‘s bat
There’s probably an overwhelming consensus of Red Sox fans (and New Englanders in general) who can’t wait to flip the calendar to May tomorrow. Heck, we’re capping the Red Sox’ mediocre April (they’ll get to .500 with a win over the Rays tonight) a day in advance just to put it behind us. But individually, at least, Napoli has to be one of the few Red Sox who are satisfied with how the season has begun. It’s traditionally one of The Bearded One’s better months — he’s a .253/.348/.517 hitter with 33 homers in 148 career March/April games. In 2013, he punished the ball right out of the gate, driving in 27 runs with an .850 OPS before May. This year, he’s been similarly as good, with five homers and a .932 OPS. He’ll be streaky, but he’s more than worth it for the good times.
2. Jake Peavy
The small sample-size of the first few weeks of a season tends to result in some strange numbers. That particularly applies to Boston’s favorite Duck Boat owner. He’s made five starts and won just one. His ERA (2.87) is of ace-quality, but his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is at 4.88, suggesting he’s been something less than ace-quality. The Red Sox actually won his worst start — a 6-5 victory over Baltimore in which he got a no-decision after allowing 10 hits and 5 runs in 5.2 innings. In the other four starts, he was brilliant, allowing 17 hits and 5 earned runs in 25.2 innings. For the second year in a row, he’s picked up the slack for Clay Buchholz, and he’s justifying the trade with the Tigers and White Sox even more this year than he did a season ago.
3. Mookie Betts
Well, what do we have here? A 21-year-old coming off a breakthrough season at two levels of Single A (.314, 15 homers, 38 steals) who is carrying it over and then some during his first foray in Double A? A plus-defender at second base who happens to be hitting .422/.471/.689 with four homers and 10 steals and who has active streaks of 15 games with a hit and 55 in which he’s reached base? Don’t wait for him to get to Fenway; get up to Portland to get a look at this dynamic young player now. And don’t worry about the kid being blocked. He’ll have super-sub positional versatility if he’s not the centerpiece of a mega-trade.
4. Koji Uehara
I suppose he hasn’t been quite as dominating as last year. After all, his 0.93 ERA is 0.66 higher than his ERA in the second half last year. He’s collapsing before our eyes, Mike! Actually, he has given up a few more hits rate-wise than last year — eight in 9.2 innings. But he’s walked one while whiffing 17, a ratio even better than his 11.2 in 2013. Most importantly, he looks like himself after his shoulder scare. Exhale.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove
Know what the major difference is between Bradley and Jacoby Ellsbury is in center field? (Besides roughly $20,640,857 in salary this season?) Well, yes, the throwing arm; the Red Sox finally have a center fielder who can make a throw to third base without the short-hop count hitting double figures before the ball finds a glove. But that’s not what I was getting at. It’s the jumps on hard-hit balls. Bradley’s first-step instincts are uncanny, and it’s the difference between Ellsbury running down the ball in the gap for a spectacular catch (or a near-miss) and Bradley getting there so quickly that you’re left saying, “Sheesh, I thought that was headed for the triangle, and he caught it without much suspense.” If he hits enough to remain in the lineup every day, he will win multiple Gold Gloves.
Poor guy. All that work to get to the big leagues, finally establishes himself and silences the last remaining he’s-no-prospect skeptics with a terrific 2013 season (..303/.385/.445, 12 homers) … and now he finds himself back in Pawtucket due to some roster redundancy and a brutal start (.149/.240/.269, 17 strikeouts to just 18 total bases). He didn’t have much luck — just a .167 batting average on balls in play — but for once, he didn’t seize an opportunity, either. He has the skills to hit leadoff against righties, but he didn’t show them when given the chance. He’s resilient and he’ll be back, but it sure did look like he’d taken the Pawtucket shuttle for the last time.
Unless you’re a miserable son of a gun, you never want a player to have an injury, even a minor one. But in the case of Buchholz, who has a 6.66 ERA, a 1.75 WHIP, and an average fastball velocity of 90.7 (down 1.2 from a year ago and 3.4 from his excellent 2010 season), it would at least explain why he has been such a complete mess this season after dominating the league at this point a season ago. Grim prediction: He gets lit up in his next start, then heads to Ft. Myers for a couple of weeks with an injury real or cooked up in order to try to sort all of this out.
Brock Holt hit a little but fielded poorly. Ryan Roberts (happy trails) did neither. And Jonathan Herrera has made us long for the days of Ernie Riles. Welcome back. Will Middlebrooks.
Last season, as the Cardinals’ primary closer until September, here are his ERAs by month: 0.90, 2.57, 3.12, 1.50, 0.71 and … 11.05. He’s at 10.00 now with the Red Sox, so I suppose that technically could be considered an improvement, right? After four days off, he came in to pitch the ninth last night with a 7-2 lead, gave up two runs in 0.2 innings, and Uehara had to be called upon to record the final out. He needs to be better, soon, because this Mark Melancon ’12 tribute is no fun for anyone.
I didn’t get it early last season when Jose Iglesias moved to third to replace Will Middlebrooks while Stephen Drew remained at shortstop; Iglesias’s skill at short was he’s greatest asset by far. As we came to learn, they were both terrific defenders in different ways, Iglesias with the flash and Drew with the day-to-day dependability. The Red Sox have neither on the left side of the infield right now. Xander Bogaerts, predictably, has had growing pains defensively in pretty much every way — range, routine plays, throwing accurately. And third base has been a mess in Middlebrooks’s absence, and he’s still spotty defensively himself. It’s part of the process when working young players into everyday roles, but it’s probably not much fun for the pitchers.