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In my report card, I gave the Red Sox infield a B+, citing the key contributions of some as a big positive, but the injuries as a weight around the infield’s neck. The unit was carried by Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell before his late season injury. David Ortiz, hampered by the wrist injury seemingly all season, and Jason Varitek were disappointments among this group. Julio Lugo missed half the season, probably making half of Red Sox Nation happy, so shortstop was unsettled with Jed Lowrie and Alex Cora manning the position for the balance of the season.
Defensively, the infield was an above-average unit. Youk extended his first base errorless streak to a Major League record 238 games, breaking the previous mark of 193 games, and finished with seven errors (four at 1B and three at 3B). He tied Varitek at .996 to lead all Red Sox infielders in fielding percentage, one of the reasons for his MVP consideration. The other MVP candidate, Pedroia, was also stellar defensively (.992 fielding percentage), and like Youkilis, was not afraid to get his uniform dirty. Lowell checked in at an average .967 and his hip injury contributed to decreased range and diminished play in the field. The shortstop combo also was .967, but Lowrie was perfect at the position (he did commit two errors at third base) while Lugo was an atrocious .945. Carlos Pena won the Gold Glove at first, upending the incumbent Youkilis, but Pedroia was awarded the hardware for second base.
Like the defense, the offensive leaders on the team were Pedroia and Youkilis. Pedroia tied for the league lead in hits with 213 (with Ichiro Suzuki) and was second in batting average at .326 (he was two points off Joe Mauer). His 118 runs and 54 doubles each paced the league and he added 17 home runs and 83 runs batted in, both very respectable for a top of the order hitter. Pedroia was hitting so well that he even took over the cleanup spot late in the year, and he also swiped 20 bases to contribute in every facet of the game. Youk, for his part, led the team in home runs with 29 and RBI with 115, good for fourth in the league. He was also well rounded at the plate, hitting .312 and was on base 39% of the time, thanks to his good eye and patience yielding 62 walks.
Lowell, despite missing a quarter of the season, hit 17 home runs with a .274 average. Big Papi hit 23 home runs and drove in 89, but his .264 average was down and he was not the feared hitter that he has been in recent years. Getting healthy this offseason will be a priority for the Red Sox as he was definitely bothered by the wrist even after he was back. Tek’s contract year was not his most memorable one as he had quite the off year hitting only .220 with 13 home runs. Even his on base percentage, at .313, and slugging, at .359, were levels not seen as a full time player. Lugo did not make up for the defense with offense as he hit a pedestrian .268 with four steals and Lowrie was at .258.
Sean Casey played a valuable role for the Sox, but it was more as a pinch hitter than as a fielder. He reached base at a .381 clip and struck out about once every nine at bats, so he was getting the ball in play, an important attribute in his role. Cora was primarily a defensive replacement, but hit a decent .270. Kevin Cash, Varitek’s primary backup, did not pick up the offensive production for the position much (.225BA), but had a .987 fielding percentage.
Pedroia and Youkilis carried the unit, but with a healthy Ortiz and Lowell, the infield is rock solid offensively and above average defensively, depending on how catcher and shortstop play out. The dual MVP candidates were a huge part of the team’s success this season, and were the balast of a team that was in an uncharacteristic amount of flux.