Touching All the Bases

There Is One Brock Holt Comparison To A Recent Red Sox Standout That Actually Makes Sense


But I’m not going to tell you who it is until I scold you.

[Wags weak old-man finger menacingly. Right, sort of like Mr. Burns.]

Let me make this clear: I don’t want the hullabaloo around Brock Holt’s recent exceptional performance to end. I don’t want the enthusiasm for how he is playing curbed. It’s a great story, one that is pivotal to the Red Sox’ rejuvenation.

Unexpected, out-of-nowhere — well, make that out-of-Pawtucket — success stories are one of the prime joys of following sports.

And 97 plate appearances into his season, Holt certainly qualifies as one of the bigger successes and joys on the 2014 Red Sox. He’s hitting .337 with an .885 OPS, and his four-double contribution in his team’s seventh straight victory Sunday was his best ballgame yet.
It’s a blast to watch a player seize his chance — his latest chance, since he hit .203 last year — especially when it directly correlates with the team’s success. This is a great story, one that hopefully has more fulfilling chapters, perhaps even through October.
No, I don’t want Brock Holt enthusiasm curbed.
What I want is the ill-informed insanity about what he is and will be nipped, now.
In that roughly 100 plate-appearance sample size, Holt has made it easy to dream big.
He’s playing like he’s unlimited — the .412 batting average on balls in play hasn’t hurt that perception — when the reality is that there is a lot of large-sample, multi-season evidence that does a much more thorough job of identifying who he is. It tells us exactly how limited he is.
He’s at least adequate defensively but not someone capable of playing shortstop for a prolonged stretch. He has a .286/.336/.381 slash-line in the majors, which includes 144 plate appearances before this season’s sample.
That seems a decent approximation of what he would be as a hitter considering he has a 307/.372/.410 line in six minor league seasons. He has very little power — 15 homers in 2,070 minor league games. And he’s not an efficient base stealer, with 64 steals in 97 attempts in the bush leagues.
The knowledge of what Holt is and projects to be is right there on baseball-reference, readily available to anyone curious about what the 26-year-old has been before he became Fenway’s favorite meteor since Pedro Ciriaco.
Ciriaco, like Holt, was a Pirates refugee who caught Red Sox fans’ fancy with an unexpected, BABIP-spurred hot streak in July 2012. Their skill-sets differ — Holt is the better offensive player for sure — but they have another thing in common: a too-large number of allegedly informed Sox fans thought the player was a superior option to Stephen Drew.
That’s the frustration on this end — the limited awareness of what he is as a player. Prospect knowledge nowadays is mainstream — hell, even the amateur draft has become an event despite the high failure rate and long path to big leagues of even the first-round prospects. You can be as informed on a player as you want to be, even if he’s not a familiar name.
Choosing to suggest that Holt — 26, and with a skill-set that is playable daily only as a second baseman — is a just-born star and some sort of savior is silly. It’s choosing to be ill-informed for sake of believing in a wonderfully enjoyable small sample. It’s choosing to believe he is an exception to the rule, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

Well, I agree with that second part, anyway.
Holt will get some at-bats at first base, and perhaps even a few at second should Dustin Pedroia admit to injury and take a two-week sabbatical on the disabled list. He certainly will spend more time this summer with the 2014 Red Sox than will Will Middlebrooks.
But the first part? Made me yell at my computer like it was Joey Galloway. It’s similar in that both involve a dude named Drew. There’s dreaming. And then there’s sports insanity. This is the latter. This is not that far off from believing in Rudy Pemberton and Dwayne Hosey in April 1997.
I don’t want to rain on the Brock Holt parade. But dammit all, the irrational among you make me do it against my will.
Based on the reaction the last couple of days — DREW-SIGNING REMORSE! CHERINGTON MUST HAVE DREW-SIGNING REMORSE! — I’m not going prevent anyone from getting Ciriaco’d again. So instead, I’m turning to science — the science of Twitter, that is.
Last night, I threw the chum in the water:

The response from all of you hammerhead sharks was more than I expected — probably 60-70 replies in just a couple of minutes. There were so many that I’ll break them down into categories. You’ll understand why:

Definitely fair. In fact, he’s the entire Rice-Lynn-Dwight Evans outfield combined into one man. One awesome man.

Well, sure, if you mean this Ted Williams:


I’ll grant you that the physical resemblance is uncanny.

Nope. At 24, Greenwell was the runner-up for the AL MVP, putting up a .325/.416/.531 slash line. At 26 — Holt’s age now — Greenie was past his prime.

Nope. Hat not dirty enough. Doesn’t even know how to scowl. Tobacco reportedly makes him queasy. Never even heard of Brian Daubach.

Nope. Holt has 15 minor league homers. Daubach had 35 at age 26 in Triple A the year before he joined the Sox. Now, Jody Reed is interesting — his minor league line of .289/.392/.358 is similar to Holt’s — but Reed was already two years established as the Red Sox’ starting shortstop by 26. No match.

Wanted to dismiss this one, but minor-league stats aren’t that far off. Naehring had more pop, though, and was higher-regarded as a prospect. One Phillies scout thought he could be the next Mike Schmidt.

Interesting, but not quite right. Holt is better defensively. Pozo had more power, hitting 22 homers with an .870 OPS as a 23-year-old at Pawtucket in 1997. Still think he could have had a big league career with the right opportunity.

Not bad. In 105 PAs with the ’96 Sox, he had a .747 OPS. But has Holt done this?

No, he should not. And he never will, unless Rivera makes an ill-fated comeback.

Another not bad. Frye had a .372 OBP as a 29-year-old for the ’96 Sox. (Sheesh, did all of these guys play for the ’96 Sox?) Holt has a .372 OBP in his minor-league career.

I love this one. Among American League shortstops with at least 450 plate appearances last season, Stephen Drew was second in OPS. First? Right. Lowrie. I suspect Ben Cherington would probably trade Holt for him, yes.
And now that I’ve kept you hostage for this long, I’ll finally answer the question in the headline. Take it away, Matthew Kitson:


Oh, you know I wanted to dismiss the Mueller comp. The guy won a batting title here. He drove in Dave Roberts. He was the rare Sox player who was liked by just about every fan. He was much better than Brock Holt ever could hope to be, right?
Well, yes, probably. But the early career paths are more similar than I realized. Holt was a ninth-round pick. Mueller was a 15th-rounder. Like Holt, Mueller didn’t have home-run power in the minors, hitting 12 total in his first four seasons of pro ball. Like Holt, Mueller got his shot late, seizing an opportunity as a 25-year-old with a .330/.401/.415 performance — without a homer — over 55 games for the ’96 Giants.
If you want to make a really hopeful comp for Holt, one unlikely but wholly impossible, I’d say this is the route to go. Bill Mueller was a hell of a player, but it took him time. Maybe — probably not, but maybe — Holt is on a similar path.
Anyway, the real Holt comp has been obvious to me for a while. No, not David Eckstein.
The correct answer is Derek Jeter. The eyes are beyond calm. And neither can play shortstop.

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