Well, we’ve made it through the first half, but I can’t say I’m pleased with where we are. The only thing I could say is that I’m glad it’s not worse than it is, but that really, really doesn’t say much. We’re suffering from inconsistency, injuries, and just a general lack of that spark we’ve tended to see in our winning teams in recent years. These are underlying, pervasive problems that can’t just be fixed by a trade or a snap of the fingers. Changes have to come from within, but it’s hard to pinpoint a solution when the sources of the problems are hard to pinpoint themselves. Either way, we know what we have to do to improve: win consistently.
As I do every year, I’ve graded the entire team at the halfway point:
Kelly Shoppach: B
As backup catchers go, Shoppach is pretty good. In thirty-one games, he’s made only two errors and four passed balls. His catcher’s ERA is 3.76, which anyone on our pitching staff these days would be lucky to have. He has also hit ten doubles and four home runs, and his batting average is .269, which isn’t bad for a backup catcher, either.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B
Salty is working out much better than we expected power-wise. He ranks first among all Major League catchers in home runs with seventeen, which I don’t think is something many people predicted. But all but one of those were hit from the left side, which is something he needs to work on. He also needs to work on his fielding, which is supposed to be one of a catcher’s strong suits. His fielding percentage is .987, which is high but, in my opinion, not high enough. He’s made six errors and passed five balls; I’m looking for something closer to zero errors and zero passed balls. His catcher’s ERA is 4.45, which is decent, and he’s come a long way as far as forging relationships with the pitchers and calling good games is concerned.
Adrian Gonzalez: C
I am not afraid to say that Gonzalez so far has been a huge disappointment. He is nowhere near the powerhouse he was last season, and I was fully expecting this season to exceed last season. He is second among Major League first basemen in doubles with twenty-seven and eighth in RBIs with forty-five, but he’s not even in the top twenty in home runs. With only six, he’s actually last among all first basemen in the American League. His fielding, however, is as solid as ever. He’s made only one error, so his fielding percentage is .999. But offensively we need much, much more from him. The team is struggling, but he was not supposed to be one of the reasons why.
Dustin Pedroia: C
It’s always tough to grade a player who’s been plagued with injuries because you have to assume that the injuries weren’t his fault, and you have to try to compare his performance given the injuries with what you expect his ideal performance to be given the injuries. The truth is that Pedroia is struggling across the board offensively. Doubles, home runs, walks, on-base percentage; you name it, he’s not performing as well as he could be in it, even given the injuries. His fielding, like Gonzalez, is as solid as ever with a percentage of .997. But like Gonzalez, Pedroia was not supposed to be one of the reasons why the team is struggling. He’s a phenomenal leader both on and off the field, but we also need him to lead the charge offensively and help the team win on a more consistent basis.
Mike Aviles: B
Our woes at shortstop for the most part continue. Why we can’t get a shortstop in there who can hit as well as he fields is completely beyond me. Aviles is making a valiant effort, but it’s not enough. First of all, his fielding percentage is .982. He has made seven errors. I understand that shortstop is the most difficult position defensively, but that’s also why you need an amazing fielder to man it. Aviles is a great fielder. He is not an amazing fielder. He’s not an amazing hitter, either. He has a .260 average and .283 on-base percentage. He’s hit twenty-two doubles, no triples, and nine home runs with forty-four RBIs and twelve walks. Not the best shortstop material.
Will Middlebrooks: B
Middlebrooks has some big shoes to fill, so he has to go through a process of proving himself. I will say that he’s off to a fantastic start offensively. His performance at the plate has been phenomenal, and it’s been truly wonderful to witness the fruits of our labor on the farm in growing a power hitter ourselves. In forty-eight games, he has fifty-one hits, eleven of which are doubles and ten of which are home runs. He has a .298 average and a .335 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks, so he could walk more. His performance in the field, not so much. He has a fielding percentage of .935 and has made seven errors. Third base is a tough place to play as well, and he needs to work on it to round out his game.
Nick Punto: B
Think about what Punto is for. Punto is a utility infielder. He’s supposed to be able to play any position decently well and to hit decently well. He is not supposed to be truly outstanding at everything infield, and we’re lucky if he’s outstanding at one thing infield. So the criteria he’d have to meet for an A is lower than it is for a starter. Still, as utility infielders go, it’s not like he’s been that great. His average is .212; only six of his twenty-one hits were for extra bases, and he has only eight RBIs. And he’s played forty-nine games, which is about more than a quarter of the whole season, so it’s not like he’s had hardly any playing time. His performance in the field is much stronger than his performance at the plate, but it still could be better.
Ryan Sweeney: C
I was on the fence about a C or a D. But then I realized that I was only going to give him a D because Josh Reddick would have been so much better, and that wouldn’t be fair. It’s not Sweeney’s fault that he’s in right field and not Reddick; that’s Ben’s fault, and we’ll get to that later. Anyway, Sweeney’s .283 average is respectable. His seventeen doubles, two triples, and zero home runs are not. Neither are his nine walks. His two errors in right are alright, but errors made in the outfield tend to be costly because the ball is farther away from the infield, so those two errors could probably count for more.
Cody Ross: B
Ross has been good but not great. His thirteen home runs from the right side of the plate are a much-needed edition to our lineup, and his twenty-four walks show patience at the plate. He also has fourteen doubles and forty RBIs to his credit, and he has yet to make an error in the field. I’d say he’s been better than expected, but he could be better still; his .264 average and .345 on-base percentage leave much to be desired.
Daniel Nava: A
If you told me during Spring Training that Nava would play fifty-two games by the All-Star break and bat.275 with an on-base percentage of .388, I would have been extremely skeptical. But that’s what happened. And he has forty-seven hits to his credit, seventeen of which are doubles and three of which are homers. He has also walked twenty-six times and has made only one error. For a utility outfielder that has suddenly found himself in the limelight thanks to injuries, he’s been handling himself very well.
Ryan Kalish: C
In short, he’s still a kid and he needs work, in the sense that he needs to be worked, in terms of playing time, and to be worked on, in terms of training time. He’s played eighteen games this year and has hit only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles. He has walked only twice and batted in only five runs. And he has made two errors, and between the fact that that’s over the course of only eighteen games and the fact that outfield errors are costly, that’s a lot.
David Ortiz: A
Nobody on this team deserves an A more than Big Papi. He ranks tenth in the Majors in doubles with twenty-five, fifth in slugging percentage with .607, and is tied for seventh in homers with twenty-two. Among DHs, he ranks first, first, and third in those categories. Simply put, the man’s job is to hit for extra bases. That’s what he does. He’s been doing it from day one this year, and he has continued to do it consistently. He’s just hit the four hundredth home run of his career, and he looks like he’s in line to hit many, many more. This season, the team seems to have two constants: inconsistency and Big Papi.
Offense Overall: B
As a team, we are sixth in the Majors in average with .268, eighth in on-base percentage with .329, and fourth in slugging percentage with .441. We are second in runs with 432, third in hits with 302, first in doubles with 208, eighth in home runs with 99, and third with RBIs with 409. And yet somehow we fail to win consistently. It’s because we don’t score runs consistently. Sometimes we score a little, and sometimes we score a lot. And of course it also has to do with the pitching, which we’ll get to later. But like I always say, just like the pitching staff’s job is to make sure that we win regardless of what the offense does or doesn’t do, so it is the offense’s job to make sure we win regardless of what the pitching staff does or doesn’t do.
Defense Overall: B
We are sixth in the Majors in fielding with a percentage of .986. It could be much, much better. I guess we can chalk it up to several players in key defensive positions having had to get used to Fenway, but that shouldn’t have taken the entire first half of the season.
Jon Lester: C
Lester has not pitched well at all. In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Beckett’s. Why must our aces struggle at the same time? Why must our aces struggle at all? These are some of the big questions for which the team does not seem to have any answers whatsoever. He has a 4.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. In eighteen starts, he is 5-6 with fifty-six earned runs, thirty walks, and eleven home runs. Those numbers put him in the basement of the American League, which is not where a pitcher like Lester is expected to be.
Josh Beckett: C
Like Lester, Beckett has not pitched well at all. In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Lester’s. He has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. In fourteen starts, he is 4-7 with forty-four earned runs, twenty-two walks, and nine home runs. He also has the lowest average strikeout total per nine innings of his career at 6.5. And this is the mighty Josh Beckett that should have won the Cy Young in 2007? He’s like a completely different pitcher now.
Clay Buchholz: C
Buchholz has actually been terrible this year. He has started fourteen games and is eight and two, but he has a 5.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP with fifty-three earned runs, fifteen home runs, and thirty-four walks. In 86.1 innings pitched, he has given up ninety-nine hits. It’s a miracle that he has more wins than losses, and how he managed to rack up so many wins is a mystery. Yet another disappointment.
Daniel Bard: D
I’m honestly sorry to give Bard a D, but it’s the grade he deserves. He was made a starter partly because his superiors wanted him to be a starter and partly also because he wanted to be a starter. But the truth of the matter is that he has no business being a starter. If something isn’t broken, nobody should try to fix it, and Bard was on the road to a fantastic career as a closer. We needed him as a closer. And instead he became this mediocre pitcher stripped of his dignity. He started ten games and had an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62. In fifty-five innings pitched, he gave up fifty-two hits, thirty-two earned runs, six homers, and thirty-seven walks. His record was 5-6. Let it be stated here that Bard is much more effective as a setup man or closer. And the fact that that actually has to be stated is an embarrassment. It should have been evident.
Felix Doubront: B
I don’t think anyone predicted in Spring Training that Doubront would become our best starter. Then again, as we have seen, this season has been full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, so Doubront was a breath of fresh air. Not that that says much. In any other season, if Lester and Beckett and Buchholz pitched to their abilities, Doubront would be at the middle or bottom of the rotation at best. Anyway, his ERA is currently 4.41, and his WHIP is 1.38. He has started seventeen games and has a record of 9-4. In ninety-six innings pitched, he’s given up forty-seven earned runs, fifteen homers, and thirty-five walks.
Aaron Cook: B
Compared to how we thought he was going to work out, Cook was actually a pleasant surprise as well. Again, that doesn’t say much, but given his health when he joined the team, it does say a lot about his determination and commitment. Plus he pitched that absolute gem a few starts ago, which can not be overlooked, especially since he’s made only four starts this season so far. He has a 4.37 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, which is decent under his circumstances. And we need the extra starter anyway.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: D
I’ve been thinking that Dice-K is a problem with no solution.
Matt Albers: B
Albers has not been outstanding, but he has been pretty great. He certainly has made a valiant effort to turn it around from last season and has a nice 2.38 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP. In thirty-four innings, he’s given up thirteen runs on twenty-six hits with twenty strikeouts. He’s pitched in thirty-two games and has blown only three saves. It should be zero, but this is not the team with which to be picky.
Andrew Miller: B
Again, not outstanding but pretty great. 2.75 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 19.2 innings pitched. Six runs on thirteen hits and no blown saves. If he continues pitching as well as he has so far, he will have the best season of his career numbers-wise. Granted, he spent most of his career as a starter, but he’s found this new role in which he has a chance to be really successful for a team that really needs him.
Scott Atchison: A
Here’s someone who’s outstanding. Atchison is probably our best reliever so far. His ERA is a low 1.79, and his WHIP is a low .99, and that’s over 45.1 innings pitched. He’s given up only nine runs on thirty-six hits while walking nine and striking out thirty-three. He has also given up only two home runs. Outstanding.
Vicente Padilla: C
As a setup man, he hasn’t done as well as I would have liked. His 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are actually terrible for a setup man, but somehow he gets through it. In thirty-two innings, he’s given up fourteen earned runs on thirty-five hits while striking out only nine. He’s blown two saves. Now, a setup man is a setup man; he’s supposed to put the closer in a position where the closer can close, and he’s supposed to keep the team in a position where the team can win. That means not blowing any saves and not giving up any runs, and if you do give up runs, giving up the bare minimum of runs. I don’t feel he’s done that.
Franklin Morales: B
Another thing that I don’t think anyone predicted at Spring Training was Morales’s versatility. He is both a reliever and a starter, and he is effective in both roles. He is 1-2 with eight holds and no blown saves, and he has an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.17. He has made four starts and pitched 46.1 innings total, and he has given up eighteen earned runs on forty-one hits while walking thirteen. Between all the injuries we’ve had, without Morales to fill in and start, we’d be in a very bad place.
Mark Melancon: D
Melancon doesn’t do much. Somehow it’s happened that he and Mortensen tend to appear in games together, but he hasn’t really made much of an impact. And that’s probably because he can’t be trusted, so he doesn’t get that much playing time. He has a 7.04 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP and has pitched 15.1 innings. He’s given up twelve earned runs on eighteen hits.
Alfredo Aceves: C
Let’s not forget that Aceves began the season abysmally, and we were all wondering how in the world we would be expected to continue the season with a closer like that. Well, we didn’t, because Aceves pulled it together and turned it around. And now his ERA is 4.33 and his WHIP is 1.19. I mean, that’s actually terrible for a closer, especially in light of what we’ve been used to in recent years, but it could have been a lot worse. Still, objectively speaking, we need him to be better. He’s pitched 43.2 innings and has given up twenty-one earned runs on thirty-eight hits. He also has four blown saves.
Pitching Overall: D
It should come as no surprise to anyone that our team ERA of 4.22 is one of the worst in the Major Leagues. So is our strikeout total, our batting average against, our earned run total, and our loss total. Our pitching staff is absolutely terrible this year and must somehow be fixed. However, a distinction must be made between the rotation and the relief corps. The latter is performing much better than the former. On the one hand, we expect our relievers to ideally not allow any runs. On the other hand, this is baseball, and runs are allowed, and the relief corps can not be expected to constantly clean up the messes made by the starters. It drags the relief corps down when they give up runs that end up costing the team games because the offense doesn’t hit or score and the starters don’t limit the damage.
Bobby Valentine: C
There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass won’t let him be himself. There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass lets him be too much of himself. And there are those who say that Bobby V. is not the problem and that the team is the problem. Well, I’m not in the clubhouse or the front office, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. But I do know that Bobby V. is in a class by himself. His managerial style is not one that Boston has had in a long time, certainly not in recent years. It is a style that our players and many of our new guys are not familiar with. It is a style that is not always the most adaptable and that probably expects more adaptation than it itself makes. And it is a style that takes some getting used to. This style affects his conduct both on and off the field; it affects how he makes strategic decisions before, during, and after games and it affects how he interacts with the players and the media. And based on what I have seen, based on the decisions that he has made and the things that he has said, I don’t think that that getting-used-to process is over.
Ben Cherington: C
Let’s see. Andrew Bailey is still on the DL, Reddick is having a pretty good year, and Bard is not a starter. Whether the Youkilis trade was warranted remains to be seen. I trust Ben because Theo Epstein trained him and because in the past he’s shown that he has a very intelligent and strategic mind when it comes to sabermetrics and the ins and outs of being a good general manager for a team like ours. And he’s had only one off season and one half of a season so far at the helm, so the sample size is small. So I clearly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt. But I just hope that his long-term vision for the team is not compromised by any sort of impulse from anywhere to find quick fixes that may help us in the short run but will damage our future.
Team Overall: D
I don’t really know what else to say. If I sound crushed and exasperated and frustrated, it’s because I am. And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we all are. At the All-Star break, we’re at .500, tied for fourth (or last) place with Toronto and nine and a half games out of first place, which is where the Yanks are. We can’t win as a team, we can’t win consistently, we can’t score runs consistently, we can’t pitch well consistently. We can’t do much of anything consistently. We have all these problems and no solutions. We need to pull it together in an enormously huge way and have a truly phenomenal second half if we want to avoid the consequences of having a second half just like our first half.
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