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When I handed out the Red Sox report card, the Red Sox outfielders earned an A. The three outfielders, Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J. D. Drew, played nearly every day together, meshed very well to form a very good defense, and collectively got on base, hit for power, and generated runs with speed. If there was to be one complaint, perhaps it is that they are not deep enough, with only Rocco Baldelli playing any significant outfield time, however, that is likely a function of how reliable and productive the starters were. The Red Sox will face a tougher question this offseason with Bay’s free agency and Matt Holliday’s availability should they lose him.
Jacoby Ellsbury gets all the hype for the Red Sox defense with his speed, range, and highlight reel catches, however, it was Bay who actually patrolled his field better by the numbers. Bay was not charged with a single error all season, while Ellsbury was tallied twice. To be fair, however, Ellsbury is getting to balls that most other players are not, so he is saving more outs and bases (tag ups, holding extra base hits to singles, making base runners more tentative) than just about anyone else. Left field at Fenway is unlike any other outfield position in the game (save the Astros hill in center) and Bay has played a good left field in his year and a half in Boston. Drew was also charged with only two errors and while he is the slowest of the three and seems to be the most fragile, he was a good complement in right. Besides, with Ellsbury in center, his zone can be shrunk. To illustrate their cohesiveness, Bay, Ellsbury, and Drew combined to start 424 man-games of the 486 and committed just the four errors, while the backups were charged with six in their 62 starts.
We will lead off with, well, the leadoff man. To some, Ellsbury’s on-base percentage (.355) is a little on the low end, but to counter that knock on him, he makes things happen when he gets on. He led the majors in steals with 70 and was only caught 12 times, so he will make pitchers watch him and keep first basemen close, opening up a right-side hole in a lot of cases.
Bay put up a great power line with a .267 average, 36 home runs, 29 doubles, 119 RBI, and 103 runs. Aside from the average, that line looks pretty similar to a Manny Ramirez one and comes without all the headaches, lack of 100% effort at times, and Manny moments. Drew’s line was nearly as impressive (.279 BA, 24 HR, 30 2B, 68 RBI, 84 R), and he was able to stay healthy all season.
An outfield spot was manned by someone other than the starters once every three days on average, so there was not a whole lot of reserve playing time to go around. Baldelli was the primary go-to man and did what he was supposed to do. He hit .253 with seven round-trippers and committed three errors in his time in the field, but he kept Drew’s back, knee, shoulder, and everything else loose enough to get him through the full season. Joey Gathright saw some late season playing time to bring some speed and defense, though he only got one steal. Josh Reddick only hit .169 in his 59 at-bat audition, so he looks to be a little green.