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Hey Bobby V, Why Such a Heavy Reliance on the Red Sox Bench?

Darnell McDonald throws his bat after striking out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning as Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli pumps his fist during a Tuesday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Another season, another horrid start, and a lot of concerns surrounding this year’s Red Sox squad. Mark Melancon’s ERA is higher than Jamie Moyer’s age, the DL has a higher payroll than the San Diego Padres, and Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be throwing the javelin anytime soon (let alone play the outfield).

One trend that hasn’t been discussed, however, is Bobby Valentine’s heavy reliance on the bench. On one hand, it could be argued it’s the beginning of the season, which for some reason means players need to ease back into things (because that’s not what the two months of Spring training are for). Nevertheless, the team with the better players tends to win. So when a team’s best players are constantly sitting out, is it that surprising when they don’t win?

Kelly Shoppach

To prove this point, look no further than Kelly Shoppach. Kelly Shoppach is not a good baseball player. Yeah, he’s hitting .375 now, but unless MLB’s drug testing policy loosens up, he’ll most likely return to his sexy .226 career average. Despite having a solid catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Shoppach has started 5 of the first 12 games. That’s about 41% of the games, which over a full season translates to 67 games. Didn’t Jason Varitek in his prime play about four out of five games (leaving the backup to play 20%)? Additionally, the timing of when he plays is curious. Salty has not had a great start to the year, so when he hits his first home run of the year, the obvious thing to do is bench him in favor of a lifetime backup. None of this is to say that if Saltalamacchia had started those 5 games the Red Sox would be 5-0, but a lineup with Salty in it is always better than a lineup with Shoppach in it.

Darnell McDonald

Since Ellsbury is injured and Ben Cherington refuses to acquire legitimate major league talent, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of this guy. Can we first pause a minute and ask why? McDonald has been a career minor leaguer and probably wouldn’t crack the Kansas City Royals opening lineup, so what is he doing here?

Additionally, he’s 33…which doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth. And the most irritating part of all is everyone who cites his “strong 2010 campaign.” In 2010 he hit 9 home runs and 34 RBIs, with a .270 average. Am I missing something?

Wouldn’t Boston be better off letting someone from the farm play some major league ball to help development? Darnell McDonald has no business donning a Red Sox uniform and it is foolish to think Boston has the slightest chance of competing if he is depended on for anything more than filling up cups of Gatorade for a somewhat talented major league outfielder. Josh Reddick never looked so good.

(As a side note:  Didn’t Mike Aviles work on playing right field over the Winter? With the Ellsbury injury, this could bring an end to the Aviles is blocking Iglesias nonsense. Why not put Aviles in right and let Iglesias and his non-existent bat give it a go? The Red Sox have nothing to lose except the 150 games left in the regular season.)

Nick Punto

My favorite. Before we begin, let’s ignore the fact that a Scutaro/Aviles combo would have been significantly better than an Aviles/Punto/extra $6M (that will never be used) combo. Nick Punto has played 5 games this year (again about 41% of the games). When mastermind Valentine decided he doesn’t think Youkilis is trying, he benched him (why didn’t this receive any fan fare?) in favor of Nicky P. The only problem is that a one-legged Youkilis would still be better than Nick Punto. So far, the Red Sox have played third basemen including Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria. When Nick Punto is the guy you’re sending out to play, it doesn’t take a genius to predict the outcome.

Verdict

Over the offseason, Bobby Valentine was hailed as a traditional baseball strategist, but all I see is a fidgety, attention-seeking, control freak. The elite of the American League can boast Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Curtis Granderson among others at their disposal. When you sound out Kelly Shoppach and Nick Punto, what do you expect?

A huge amount of blame falls on the incompetent front office for not being prepared, but at the same time maybe the starters should be allowed to…well, start. Twelve games is a small sample size, but it is absurd to think the Red Sox can play like a top team when they constantly send out borderline major leaguers. It’s simply a matter of playing the guys who put the team in the best position to win.  How often do position players need a day off? Once every one or two weeks? Right now, it just seems like a little much.

The criticism directed towards the Red Sox is probably deserved, but maybe we should see what the starters can do before staring baffled at the American League East standings.

About Josh Segal

Josh Segal is a professional shock artist and trash talker. He also occasionally writes opinion pieces about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and their respective leagues at large. Segal is currently a junior at Kenyon College where he plans to double major in drama and political science. Apparently he also writes his own biographies in the third person.

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Discussion

2 comments for “Hey Bobby V, Why Such a Heavy Reliance on the Red Sox Bench?”

  1. Baseball is a team sport. As everyone knows, in pro ball team rosters are set at 25 active players. In the AL this includes a DL who bats for the pitcher. With half of the roster reserved for pitchers, and 9 positions set aside for defensive position on the field, team benches usually consist of 3, sometimes 4 players, that usually include a backup catcher, an infielder, an outfielder, and the DH. The most useful utility infielder is one capable of playing at least 3 positions. The 4th outfielder that can play both corner fields and center field is ideal. This maximizes team flexibility in the event of injury, illness or early departure from an on-going game.

    Over the span of a 162 game season, bench players may be called on to play as often as 75% of games played. This is especially true with teams that have aging veterans playing regularly. It behooves the smart manager to select the most talented individual available for these back up positions and to play them often, early, to learn their strengths and weaknesses, especially if they are new to the team. The Red Sox seem to be doing exactly that with backup catcher, Shoppach, and utility fielder Punto.

    As for backup outfielder MacDonald, he is, quite likely, the 25th man on the roster. Thus, when Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return from the DL and begin playing regularly, he will probably be sent to Pawtucket, along with recent call up, Spears.

    As for Bard, he has probably requested that he be allowed to pitch out of jams he creates for himself, and to pitch as long as he possibly can, to strengthen his arm. Except for his wildness of a few nights ago, he has pitch well, not great, but well. If Dice-K returns and pitches as he did early in his career, Bard may indeed end up the closer again, assuming no other injuries to starters. Presumably, Thomas will be long gone by then.

    BTW, IMHO, I support the idea of expanding the roster to 27 positions to accommodate the DH and to allow teams to carry an additional pitcher. The NL’s pinch hitter is almost nonexistent in the AL….and what better way to add drama and excitement to game than to have an aged slugger, rather than the utility infielder or backup catcher, come to bat, once, in critical late inning situation.

    Posted by Hawkny | April 20, 2012, 2:26 pm
  2. Great article. I believe that all teams face the same struggles to balance starters, first line bench, scrub fillers and injuries. Given the BoSox payroll, though, I was hoping that we’d have the means to weather these storms a bit better and not be the door mat of the AL East. I agree that we can’t blame just the manager or management but, as they say, a fish starts to rot from the head. Once the sellout streak ends and people stop buying bricks (and pink hats), management will realize that they have to give us a compelling product for our entertainment dollars. Maybe my new phrase should be that I hope to live to see the Sox win the World Series again in my lifetime.

    Posted by BoSoxSince65 | April 22, 2012, 10:16 am

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