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The Red Sox boast the second best team ERA in the American League (4.07), behind Seattle’s 3.73. Pitching is great and all, and it may be most pivotal to a team’s success, but you’ve got to admit: good hitting is sexy. The Sox have been used to a sexy, and sometimes record-setting offense in the Theo Epstein era. While the 2009 bunch is no different, it does bow down to the rival New York Yankees (with the stadium the size of a sandbox). The Yanks have scored a major league-high 495 runs in 88 games (5.625 per game), 19 more than second place Tampa Bay, and 30 more than third place Boston, who have plated 465 runs in 88 games (5.284 per game). What do these numbers all mean?
It means that the Sox have the third best offense (in terms of runs scored) in all of baseball. The problem with that, is that they also have the third best runs total in their own division. In fact, four of the top nine highest scoring teams (New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto) all come from the AL East. The last place Orioles aren’t far behind either, smack dab in the middle of the pack at 15th in runs scored.
Again…why is this important? Runs scored is great and all, but they don’t tell the whole story. How far has Jason Bay carried the team? Has David Ortiz resurrected himself fully yet? Does Mike Lowell have a hip anymore? Here’s how the players graded at the season’s midpoint.
Players will be arranged from best to worst.
Dustin Pedroia went through a major slump in June, going 24-for-108 (.222) with zero HRs and 14 RBI. Considering his rough June, Pedroia has been great once again, with season numbers of .303 AVG, 30 doubles, 4 HR, 40 RBI, and .378 OBP. He’s on pace for more than 50 doubles again, and should be a sure bet for a couple more scorching hot months.
Defensively, he’s made five errors in 84 games at second base. It’s a solid number, but he only finished with six errors each season in 2007 and 2008, so unless his good defense becomes great again, he may miss out on a gold glove.
He may not be in line to win the MVP award again, but the all-star is still having another typical stellar season. Here’s to hoping he and his wife Kelli are OK during her pregancy! Grade: A-
Youk has turned earned another all-star nod, and why not? He’s established himself as a cornerstone first baseman with the ability to play third base (like for the injured Mike Lowell…more on him later). He’s going to be a perennial gold glove winner (just one error at first and two at third base), and he isn’t two shabby with his bat either.
Youk carried the Sox offense through the first month when everyone else seemed to struggle, hitting .395 (over .400 most of the month) with five HR and 15 RBI before going down with an injury. He came back still on fire, and hit .327 in limited action in May. June (.244 avg) and July (.205) have not been so kind, and for the first time this season, his batting average has dipped below .300.
Putting his whole body of work together, Youk has still been a key member of the Sox attack. Grade: A-
The Red Sox were in major trouble in a hurry at the beginning part of the year. Jed Lowrie never fully recovered from a wrist injury, and struggled out of the gate, hitting just .056 (1-18) before hitting the DL. “SS” Julio Lugo was already on the DL while recovering from right knee surgery. In a pinch, the Sox turned to career utility man Nick Green, and the move has paid dividends.
If Green didn’t work out so well, the Sox would’ve probably been frantic in searching for a replacement at SS via trade, and maybe would’ve lost a key trading chip in the process. Instead, Green has been a steady replacement. He’s hitting .257 with 4 HR and 30 RBI, but his numbers have taken a dip lately due to a slump (.233 avg in June, .183 in July).
Out of the gate, Green gave the Red Sox .275 avg in April and a .321 avg in May. Throw in a game-winning HR in June, and you have yourself a pretty decent replacement while the Sox wait for their “more talented” shortstops heal. Grade: B
A healthy Mike Lowell is a very important piece to the Sox puzzle, but they’ll be lucky if they get his first half numbers in the second half as well. Lowell’s hip has been acting up…yes, he still has a hip.
Despite playing with pain, the 35-year-old has produced 10 HR and 41 RBI with a .282 average. Despite being the slowest person on the team due to his hip problems, Lowell has hustled enough for 18 doubles, and should top 30 in that category before it’s all said and done.
Remarkably, Lowell has made only eight errors in 66 games at third base. Let’s face it, despite his injury issues, he’s been a key player for the Red Sox. Grade: B
Jason Varitek was really bad in 2008. He woke up again in 2009, and hopefully he can carry a decent first half into a stronger second half. Tek has just a .239 avg, but he’s been quite productive. He’s walked 37 times to give him a .348 OBP, and his power has returned as well: 13 HR, 38 RBI, .478 SLG.
Behind the plate, Tek has been solid. He’s started 65 games already, and committed only two errors. But, he’s been pretty bad at throwing out runners, allowing 59 stolen bases to only 13 caught stealing (18.1%). Either way, Tek has been much better than last year, and considering his low $5 million salary (relatively speaking), he’s been good. Grade: B-
I use the term “shortstop” loosely with Julio Lugo, because he’s so inadequate at the position. He can play it, but has limited range, an average and sometimes inaccurate arm, and the ability to bobble balls at the absolute wrong times. He, too, has dealt with injuries (knee), so that has something to do with it. But, baseball is a game of numbers, and Lugo just isn’t producing defensively: 7 errors in 32 games (27 starts) for a poor .928 fielding percentage.
He’s shown some life in his bat this year by carrying a .284 avg and .352 OBP, but his power numbers are just atrocious. He has just one HR and eight RBI with a putrid .367 SLG. Remember the fast guy the Red Sox signed after the 2006 season? He has three stolen bases this year. OK, maybe I’m hating on him too much, but it’s at the point where a healthy Jed Lowrie combined with Nick Green could spell the end for Lugo in Boston. Grade: C
For the first two months of the season, David Ortiz earned less than an F, if possible. In fact, he was so bad, he was taking away from the middle of the lineup by being there and giving nothing. By the end of May, Ortiz was hitting .185 with a .284 OBP and an unbelievably low .287 SLG with 1 HR and 18 RBI. If I could have, I would’ve given him a negative score. But, in June (.320, 7 HR, 18 RBI) and July (.200, 4 HR, 11 RBI), Big Papi caught fire and salvaged his season.
Papi now stands at .222 with 12 HR and 47 RBI. His streak brought him back to respectable OBP (.317) and SLG (.416) numbers, and now may be poised for a second-half surge. Did the eye drops help? It looks like it…Grade: C
Mark Kotsay spends most of his time as a first baseman, so we’ll slot him as an infielder. I love the versatility and veteran presence he brings to the team, but it’s almost impossible to measure that stuff. We can take a look at his stats, but he was limited by injury as well, as he did not appear in a game in April or May.
Kotsay has done well thus far, as he sports a .269 avg (18-67) with one HR and five RBI, but that’s all in limited time off the bench. As long as he can stay healthy, Kotsay will give the Sox a good glove at first base and a solid bat off the bench. Grade: C
Seemingly the only catching prospect in the organization ready for the minor leagues, Kottaras was thrown into the major league fire when the Sox needed a backup catcher. With the Red Sox, backup catcher is no ordinary position, as it carries the burden of catching Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball every fifth day with it. Defensively, Kottaras has done an admirable job, with just one error and seven passed balls in 32 games (21 starts). Along with Varitek, Kottaras is poor at throwing out runners, allowing them to steal at 84.6% clip (22 SB, just four caught stealing).
With the bat, Kottaras has had his moments, but mostly been ineffective (.218, 1 HR, 8 RBI). He’s there to catch Wakefield, and that’s it. Grade: C
The Red Sox have suspiciously called up Jeff Bailey, Chris Carter, and Aaron Bates instead of stud power-hitting first baseman prospect Lars Anderson. Perhaps they’re holding Anderson back because they feel he’s not ready. That’s fine. But, Theo…I’ve got something to tell you…Bailey, despite the fact he’s 30, isn’t really ready either.
Bailey sports a .208 avg, three HR, and nine RBI on the year. Defensively at first he’s been solid, committing only two errors for a .988 fielding percentage. But, he really hasn’t done much else, except fill gaps when needed. Grade: D
He’s only mentioned because he’s the incumbant starter that’s been down most of the season with injury. He’s set to return right after the All-Star break, so it will be interesting to see where he lines up. Grade: incomplete
1B Aaron Bates, C Dusty Brown, 1B Chris Carter, and SS Gil Velazquez
Players will be arranged from best to worst.
Jason Bay is in the final year of his deal with the Red Sox, and he’s looking to become an indispensable player for the team, so long as they pay him handsomely for his services. When the Red were struggling offensively (mainly David Ortiz), and had Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup due to injury, Bay carried his team on his back.
Jason Bay had a very strong first two months (.288, 15 HR, 49 RBI), but has slumped recently as his average has dropped to .260. He only has five HRs since the beginning of June, but his overall totals are still very nice: 19 doubles, 20 HR, a league-leading 72 RBI, 57 walks, and 10 stolen bases. Grade: A-
In his first full season as a starter (so long, Coco!), Ellsbury has matured nicely as a hitter. He’s currently at .297 with five HR and 29 RBI. He’s walked 23 times as well, to give him a respectable .347 OBP. His biggest asset, however, is his speed. He’s stretched some singles into doubles and doubles into triples, but most notably, he has stolen 40 bases already (2nd in the AL) and is on pace for 76 this season.
Defensively, Ellsbury is spectacular, as he made his first career error this season (his third season in the majors). He sports a career .997 fielding percentage in center field, and a perfect 1.000 percentage in LF and RF. Again, Coco who? Grade: B+
If not for his mitochondrial disorder, Rocco Baldelli would probably be a starting OF for many teams. But, due to his disease, he tires very quickly, and must be a bench player if he wants to remain in the majors. Rocco hasn’t let the disorder get in his way (well, save for the 15-day DL stint earlier this year…c’mon, that was a given).
Baldelli has played well off the bench as an OF and part-time DH, hitting .282 with 4 HR and 14 RBI. He’s shown patience at the plate (.358 OBP) and some power as well (.471 SLG), along with a good glove in the outfield. What more could you ask for from your fourth OF? Grade: B
The highest paid player on the team, J.D. Drew has never lived up to his contract and never will. The average fan will watch Drew ground out, run to first, and make no expression as he runs back to the dugout. They’ll see Terry Francona slot him as the leadoff man with his .252 avg, and wonder, “what is Tito thinking?”
Well, Drew is just one of those players that quietly goes about his business and quietly produces results. Despite his .252 avg, Drew has a strong .377 OBP, thanks in large part to 50 walks. He also has pop in his bat, as evidenced by 12 HR, 19 doubles, and a .477 SLG. Combine his sound offensive skills with a pretty good glove, and you have a pretty good player. Grade: B-
Jonathan Van Every
Well, there you have it. The third-highest run-scoring team in all of baseball (the Sox) have played quite well in the first half, and are a big reason the Sox have the AL’s best record at 54-34, and a three-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. Pitching does win championships, but no team in the history of baseball has ever won a game without scoring a run. Grade: B+