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When I handed the Red Sox their 2008 report card, I judged the outfield to be a B+. This group could have been an A+ unit if not for a number of issues. First and foremost, the Manny Ramirez saga, though short in peak duration, was the story of the season and wore on the team just before the trading deadline.
Just as important was J. D. Drew‘s back injury, which must have occurred in the first half of the season when he was carrying the team. On the plus side, the outfield had plenty of depth with Manny and later Jason Bay in left, the platoon of Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, and Drew and some Mark Kotsay in right.
Collectively, the outfield was very good defensively and should not be a surprise with the speed, range, and prowess of the center fielders. Crisp made only two errors all season and makes most routine plays, but his speed puts him in position to make plays on balls a lot of outfielders would not even have a chance at. Because of this, he always seems to be bouncing off a wall or laid out making a catch, getting him some well deserved highlights.
Not to be outdone, Ellsbury made plays in his own right all over the field. Having proved his worth at the end of last season and in those playoffs, he played all three outfield positions regularly, in order to keep him in the lineup everyday and was flawless, making no errors.
Manny’s offensive abilities and Manny Moments (remember him cutting off Johnny Damon‘s throw?) will always overshadow his defense, which was better than he gets credit for. His range is less than stellar, but he adapted to a tough left field in Fenway Park. Playing the Green Monster is an art form and takes a great amount of practice to know when to give chase and when to back off and play the carom. He made more barehanded catch and throws off that wall to prevent singles from turning into doubles over the years. His six outfield assists as a Red Sox placed him tied for sixth in the American League, five off the lead…not bad for half a season.
Bay played a very respectable left field, recording five assists and only one error in his third of a season. Drew was the weak link in the outfield as he was tagged with four errors and an outfield low .979 fielding percentage.
As nice as the defense was, the role these guys were expected to fill primarily was in the batters box. Crisp and Ellsbury were the sparkplugs while Ramirez and Drew were expected to bring them home. Neither Crisp nor Ellsbury is a typical leadoff man as their on base percentages are a little low for the one hole: .344 and .336 respectively, which is why Crisp especially spent time at the bottom of the order.
Crisp also strikes out once per six at bats while Ellsbury gets rung up almost once per seven which is respectable, but these are a lot of at bats without the ball being in play. With their speed, they can pressure an infield and turn seemingly routine ground balls into close plays or even an error. Once on base they are dangerous, going one-two on the team in steals with 50 for Ellsbury and 20 for Crisp (though he did tie with Dustin Pedroia). They can also be the front end of a hit and run or take the extra base. Doing all those things correlated into Red Sox runs as Ellsbury scored 98 runs, 50% of his hit (155) plus walk (41) total of 196. Crisp, though not quite as proficient due to the lower position in the order, still rung up a good 40% with 55 R, 102 H, and 35 BB.
As for the run producers, Manny was not quite as effective as normal with 68 RBI in 100 games, despite 20 home runs. This was partly due to inconsistent offense around him, specifically with David Ortiz hurt and then performing at less than expected levels. Drew put up a well-rounded line with an impressive .408 OBP, 19 HR, 64 RBI, and 79 R. He had a very strong first half, carrying the team for part of it when Big Papi was hurt and Manny was slumping. His propensity for getting hurt flared up again and his back forced him to miss key time toward the end of the season. Bay made an immediate splash, getting key hits in his first few games and ended up at .293 with 23 extra base hits (nine home runs), 39 runs, and 37 RBI in his 49 games for Boston.
With the Red Sox primary outfield rotation running four deep, especially with Manny and Drew getting DH days, Mark Kotsay was the only true reserve. He was a late season acquisition, like Bobby Kielty in 2007, added to provide outfield depth and a veteran bat off the bench. He was a guy who understood his role, which was not as an everyday player and one that would see him spell a number of players at a few different positions.
Brandon Moss had a similar role early in the season, before being traded to Pittsburgh in the Ramirez deal. He hit .295 with two home runs in his brief time in Boston, but seems to project as a fourth outfielder. With the crowded outfield and the need for a veteran in that role here, going to Pittsburgh and getting a chance to play more often could be an opportunity for him.