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In my report card, I gave the Red Sox infield a C+ because of the inconsistency, partly injury and age related, but nonetheless, it was not the unit it was a year ago. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who split his time at first and third, were the rocks on the diamond, each chipping in another good season. They each were productive offensively and defensively though neither matched their stellar 2008 campaign, one in which Pedroia was the American League Most Valuable Player.
It will be hard for anyone to deny that Jason Varitek’s age has caught up to him and perhaps the same can be said for David Ortiz. Shortstop was a mess with Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, and Nick Green all shelved at one point or another and Lugo was even shipped out of town for essentially nothing. With the inability to solve the backstop and shortstop dilemmas from within the organization while positively impacting the lineup card, the team went outside to get Victor Martinez and familiar face Alex Gonzalez, who was a defensive upgrade as well.
The Red Sox took a step back on this side of the ball in 2009. Mike Lowell’s hip injury hampered his play and reduced his range, forcing Youk over to the third sack at times, a move which weakens the infield as a whole, since he is a Gold Glove caliber first basemen. Gonzalez was the best shortstop of any of them, though the bar was set pretty low by the time he arrived. Nick Green committed 14 errors at the position in only 81 games and Lugo logged a horrid .928 fielding percentage in his stint at the helm.
On the positive side, Martinez was an immediate impact player for the Red Sox, hitting .336 in his 56 games following the trade (.303 for the full season), which would have led the team if he had kept that pace all season. He also hit eight home runs post-trade and 23 for the season, finishing the campaign with very typical numbers for him. Youkilis had a typical season with a .305 average, 27 home runs, 94 batted in, and 99 scores. Pedroia’s average dropped 30 points down to .296, but the rest of his line held up close to last year’s MVP season, so he was still plenty valuable to the team.
Where to begin the not so good side? May as well start with the captain, who continues to slide. He is now four years from the end of his career’s peak and has seen his numbers drop each year since then with the exception of 2007’s modest uptick coming off an injury ridden 2006. The season began with promise, especially given the big to-do with the contract situation as he hit 10 of his 14 home runs before June 1, but fell off after that. His monthly averages were almost a straight line down: .250 (April), .231 (May), .234 (June), .231 (July), .135 (August), .133 (September/October), finishing with a .209 average.
Big Papi had to dodge steroid rumors from the survey test results in 2003 and with a slow start to the season, whispers turned to questions about whether he was still using and if he will never be the same. He went homerless in April and with only one more in May, he was looking pretty useless as a designated hitter who cannot hit. However, he warmed up with the weather and hit seven each in June, July, and August with six more in September to finish with 28, but his .238 average is his lowest as a full-time player.
At shortstop, the Red Sox expected some offense from Lugo, who hit .284 with only one dinger in his 109 Red Sox at-bats, since he is a defensive liability. However, the others who played the position were down in the order, defense-first types. Even Gonzalez, who is expected to provide solid defense while offense is essentially a bonus (career .247 hitter, with a .277 high in 1999), hit for the same average as Lugo and hit four more home runs in just 39 more at bats.
The Red Sox seemed to go through a lot of infielders this season, even trading for Adam LaRoche for a week before turning him in for Casey Kotchman, who hit just .218 for the Sox. George Kottaras was no upgrade over Varitek, Jeff Bailey was only used to give someone a day off, and Chris Woodward was a defensive replacement, though he filled that capacity well.