Fire Brand Mid-Season Roundtable Review

With the season reaching its half way point after tonight’s game in Houston, I thought it would be a fun idea to take look back on the season to date in a mid-season roundtable review format.  In doing so, I set out to enlist some of the finest bloggers and journalists covering the Red Sox to participate.  Luckily, the response to my inquiry was overwhelming, and five fellow Sox writers graciously accepted my request to contribute.

Today’s panel of fantastic writers includes Evan Brunell of CBS Sports Eye on Baseball and Fire Brand‘s founder (follow on Twitter @evanbrunell); Nick Underhill of Masslive.com (follow on Twitter @Nick_Underhill); Marc Normandin of Over the Monster (follow on Twitter @Marc_Normandin); Denton of Surviving Grady (follow on Twitter @SurvivingGrady); Matt Collins of Red Stocking Thoughts (follow on Twitter @Red_SoxThoughts); and myself (follow on Twitter @Chip_Buck).  Each panel member was asked to provide their opinion on seven questions regarding the current and future status of the Red Sox.  The questions:

1.  Whose provided the most surprising performance during the first half of the season?

2.  Whose been the biggest disappointment so far this season?

3.  Who will break out during the second half of the season?  Why?

4.  What is the Red Sox biggest weakness?

5.  Who will be the Red Sox starting shortstop at the end of the season?  Why?

6.  Who will the Red Sox pick up (if anyone) at the trading deadline (includes the waiver deadline) for the stretch run?

7.  What will the Red Sox final record be?  Will the Red Sox make the playoffs?  If so, how far will they go?

Hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and views in the comments section below.  The answers to the panels’ questions can be seen after the jump.

1.  Whose provided the most surprising performance during the first half of the season?

Chip Buck (Fire Brand of the American League): Coming into the season, it looked like 2011 would be David Ortiz’s swan song with the Red Sox.  Instead, he’s revitalized his career by improving his bat speed, and rediscovering his ability to mash lefties.  His torrid pace has helped make up for deficiencies created by Carl Crawford’s slow start and J.D. Drew’s season long drop-off in production.  While it remains to be seen if he’ll continue producing at this rate, his offensive output out of the number five slot in the lineup has been invaluable.

Evan Brunell (CBS Eye on Baseball): The most surprising performance had to have been David Ortiz. Not many knew if Ortiz could give us what he had totaled over the last few seasons, never mind his previous greatness. And yet he is now hitting the best he has since 2007. For an aging slugger who couldn’t catch up to 88-mph fastballs, that’s a dramatic turnaround.

Nick Underhill (Masslive.com): I’d like to go with a more obscure answer here, but anyone other than Josh Beckett would simply be wrong. Like most, I thought that Beckett would be better this season. But I envisioned him to be more around 3.60, not 2.20. Unfortunately, I think that’s where we’re headed in the second half. There are things in his numbers that are simply unsustainable. That 5.3 HR/FB ratio is terrifying, and his .212 BABIP should also be arching some eyebrows.

Marc Normandin (Over the Monster): There hasn’t been much in the realm of the unexpected for Boston this year, with so many returning players doing what they are here to do. There are two who merit mentioning, though, and those are Matt Albers and Andrew Miller. Albers was a wonderful little pickup by the front office this winter, as he had picked up his strikeouts and groundball rates and avoided the longball for the better part of 2010′s second half. That success has continued above and beyond expectations with the Sox, and helped to stabilize the bullpen while Bobby Jenks has been out. Miller is just two starts in, but the fact he even merited coming to the majors given his past performances is a surprise.

Denton (Surviving Grady): For me personally, Adrian Gonzalez has been the biggest surprise. Despite all of the hype, I did not have expectations that he would be more than a .300/30/100 guy. He is currently at .360 and on pace to hit 35 home runs and bat in over 150 runs, not to mention he’ll have over 50 doubles.

Matt Collins (Red Stocking Thoughts): David Ortiz. While I realize Josh Beckett has been off the charts, who could have expected Ortiz to be the second best bat on the team midway through the year. He avoided his annual early-season struggles, and was huge as both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis struggled compared to their standards early on. Most surprising for Ortiz is his .346/.448/.556 triple slash line against LHP, and area in which he typically struggles.

2.  Whose been the biggest disappointment so far this season?

Chip Buck: Though John Lackey’s improved since returning from the DL a few weeks ago, it’s hard not to be disappointed in a pitcher that’s making $15M this season while toting around a 6.81 ERA (4.93 FIP).  While he’s clearly carrying a lot of additional external stress due to his wife’s recent breast cancer diagnosis, it’s unreasonable to either claim or assume the stress is the sole root for his struggles on the mound.  Upon giving his stat sheet a closer look, one can’t help but noticing that his strikeout, walk, ground ball, home run, and contact rates have been trending in the wrong direction in recent years.  To me, this indicates a clear regression in skill and ability.  Still, Lackey’s long been known to be a second half pitcher, so I’m holding out hope he can regain some of the form that made him so successful while pitching for the Angels.  That said, I’m not holding my breath.

Evan Brunell:  If you don’t expect much out of someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka, is it a disappointment when he does disappoint? I say no, so John Lackey gets the prize. I admire his competitiveness and sympathize with his off-field issues, but his performance has been brutal and he’s now taking his frustrations out on the media. No one likes being booed, but Lackey was a major liability the first half. And Red Sox fans will be right there rooting for him if he can turn it around.

Nick Underhill: I know there were more than a few of us who thought that J.D. Drew was going to somehow tap into that mystical looming free agency magic and piece together a solid year. It might have been a foolish thought considering the way he ended last season, but this guy is little more than an empty suit in the batter’s box these days. His bat speed is evaporating, off-speed pitches late in counts now leave him baffled and he can no longer hit righties, who he once feasted off of. While Drew’s still good as ever defensively, I’m not sure how long he can remain in the lineup the way he’s (not) hitting.

Marc Normandin: As much as I hate to say this, it has been J.D. Drew. Now, many people are using this season to justify their complaints about him over the other years of his deal, and that is neither fair no right. But in terms of 2011, he has not been productive at the plate. His defense has still been helpful, and he is drawing walks, but he looks like he has lost a step at the plate, swinging at pitches he would normally take, as he has to guess and swing early more than in the past.

Denton: I would have to say Clay Buchholz. I fully expected him to have a year equal to, if not exceeding, his 2010 campaign. He is giving up more hits, and having a serious problem keeping the ball in the yard (10 home runs already). He appeared to be righting the ship in May and June but is now on the DL with a potentially lingering injury.

Matt Collins: JD Drew. As much grief as Drew catches from the media and fans, myself included, he has always been able to put up solid numbers for the right field position. However, this year, he has been awful, to the tune of a .232/.330/.326 triple slash line. Whether it is due to age or indifference because it’s his last year, it may be time for Francona to look down the bench for a right fielder.

3.  Who will break out during the second half of the season?  Why?

Chip Buck: I really want to say Clay Buchholz who was spectacular in eight starts prior to hitting the DL; but since I’m unsure how he’ll react upon returning from his lingering lower back injury, I’ll go with Dustin Pedroia.  After an incredibly hot start, Pedroia cooled significantly leading many to wonder if he’d fully recovered from the foot injury he suffered last summer.  Luckily, that changed as the calendar flipped from May to June as he’s produced a staggering .348/.468/.539 triple slash line with 12 extra base hits in 111 PAs.  Knowing Pedroia’s track record for getting hotter at the plate as the weather gets warmer, he’s my pick to click in the second half this year.

Evan Brunell:  Bobby Jenks is too good to be this bad, and while his peripherals don’t point to utter dominance, they do point to better production than a 7.24 ERA. Once he gets going, he’ll help slam the door in the bullpen. The bullpen has had chinks exposed in its armor during various times on the year. Jenks can help hide those chinks.

Nick Underhill: I’m not sure I see anyone as a great breakout candidate.  Carl Crawford is obviously going to keep getting better in the second half, but was already making progress before he hit the DL.  Kevin Youkilis has also already begun to shake off the early doldrums.  Everyone else seems to be pretty well established and performing to expectations.  I suppose Josh Reddick could be a candidate, but he’s so high up in the tree right now there’s nowhere for him to go but down.

Marc Normandin: With everyone in the lineup already hitting, the lone breakout candidate is Drew, though, Jed Lowrie could return from his injury to perform well once again. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carl Crawford have already rebounded from their slumps, and, if Josh Reddick sticks in the majors, he already started that breakout process weeks ago.

Denton: I think the Pedroia/Youkilis dynamic duo is poised to break out. They are both coming back from injuries in 2010 and have not looked completely comfortable at the plate at times. My dark horse to breal out is Salty. He shows flashes of brilliance that made him a high prospect, and has been getting more consistent. He is batting .347 in June, and while that is obviously not going to continue, he does show a lot of promise.

Matt Collins: Dustin Pedroia. The 2008 AL MVP got off to a slow start, but has been raking since. He is only hitting .276 now, but by years end I expect that to be around or above .300, and he should also raise his slugging percentage, which is at a career low .400. The big problem has been his 17.8% line drive percentage (per Fangraphs), which one would think should rise back up to his career norm around 20% by the end of September.

4.  What is the Red Sox biggest weakness?

Chip Buck: Had I been asked this question in April, my answer would’ve been catching.  Now, I’d have to go with right field.  While a J.D. Drew/Mike Cameron platoon sounded like a great idea on paper; in practice, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.  Though Drew has shown value both defensively and on the base paths, his lack of offensive production (only 9 extra base hits in 221 PAs) has essentially sapped the value well dry.  Cameron, who historically has hit well against lefties, has struggled to hit his weight against them; thus leading to him being designated for assignment on Thursday.  Considering Drew’s woeful production this year, it’s hard to imagine anyone willing to take on the remainder of his $14M salary.  In all likelihood, Drew will remain as the primary right fielder for the remainder of the season with some combination of Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick, and Ryan Kalish (once healthy) splitting the rest of the time.

Evan Brunell:  Right field. Right now, absolutely zero production is coming out of it. J.D. Drew has proven he can get scorching hot, but when will that time come? Mike Cameron was just designated for assignment, a disappointing outcome for someone who was a very good player before he joined Boston and fell to injuries. Drew will get a bit of a leash, but at this point, Boston needs to have a fourth outfielder atop its wish list who can platoon with Drew — and actually put up numbers.

Nick Underhill: Right field. Why? Drew continues to exist.

Marc Normandin: They are the top hitting club in the majors according to True Average, have destroyed lefties relative to the league despite being heavily left-handed, have one of the top defenses in the league according to Defensive Efficiency, and, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out of the picture and John Lackey‘s elbow possibly, maybe, we’re not so sure no longer an issue, there is very little to complain about. If Lackey does go down, though, then the rotation — or at least, that spot in it — is their most significant weakness. That goes double if Miller doesn’t keep up his productive start, as then the Red Sox are back to Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves in the rotation.

Denton: This is a toss-up: outfield depth or John Lackey. The Crawford injury has really exposed a problem in the outfield and Cameron or MacDonald are not the answer. Josh Reddick deserves a shot to be an everyday player and the reluctance to start him is costing the team. Lackey is the biggest weakness considering his contract length and dollars. If he was a four million dollar fifth starter he’d already be in the bullpen or released. Not sure how to get any value out of him at this point, he will likely wind up being Theo’s biggest mistake.

Matt Collins: Right handed bat in the outfield. It may sound like a small problem, but it has been an infuriating one as of late. The Red Sox best outfielders, Ellsbury,Crawford, Reddick and Drew, all bat from the left side. The only answers from the right side at this moment are Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron. Those two are have a combined triple-slash line of .263/.381/.449.

5.  Who will be the Red Sox starting shortstop at the end of the season?  Why?

Chip Buck: Given Scutaro’s bum throwing shoulder and Lowrie’s inability to hit right-handed pitching consistently, I think the two will end up sharing the position in a loose platoon situation.  As the season goes on, the Red Sox will likely look to maximize Lowrie’s versatility, while giving Scutaro’s bad shoulder ample rest.  If they can figure out a way to work it into a strict lefty/righty platoon with Lowrie batting only against LHP, this would be the best case scenario.  For those clamoring for Jose Iglesias‘s return to the big leagues, you could be waiting a while.  Iglesias’s offensive production, as it currently stands, would be among the worst hitters in the game if he were recalled now.  Until he proves he can hit near the replacement level, he’ll likely remain in AAA.

Evan Brunell:  Marco Scutaro. Jed Lowrie got hot in April and will still play plenty of shortstop down the stretch, but all Scutaro needs to do to hold up his starting spot is to continue hitting the way he has — which is to say, more than acceptable. That allows his glove to outweigh Lowrie’s bat.

Nick Underhill: Good question. Marco Scutaro has almost zero arm strength left due to a shoulder injury and we still don’t know enough about Jed Lowrie –besides that he lacks defensive fundamentals at the position — to definitively say that he will be the guy once when he returns from his own shoulder issue. If both succumb to injury, it seems as though Yamaico Navarro would be the first internal option to get a shot. While New England is frothing at the mouth for Jose Iglesias, he just isn’t ready. Entering Wednesday, the 21-year-old prospect had just three extra-base hits in 228 plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket. It seems that a 2013 arrival date is much more realistic than previous predictions.

Marc Normandin: They have already used Marco Scutaro as the starting shortstop and then replaced him with Lowrie, but with Lowrie now taking his turn on the DL, Scutaro is back in the slot once again. They have both been injured often in their time in Boston, so it may come down to whichever one is still standing at that point. There is something of a “ride the hot hand” feel to this; while that isn’t a great idea, it seems to be what Terry Francona is doing.

Denton: If Jose Iglesias could figure out what to do with a bat, he would be it. His offensive numbers have regressed in AAA so I’ll have to say Jed Lowrie. I don’t like Scutaro’s defense or his ability at the plate, but Lowrie clearly has trouble staying on the field. The position continues to be a problem for the Red Sox, but Lowrie, when healthy, appears to be their best option.

Matt Collins: Jed Lowrie. Of course, this depends on his health, but I believe that Lowrie has solidified his position as this year’s starting shortstop before his injury. He is by no means putting up mind-blowing numbers, but I think we will see much more production out of him than Marco Scutaro. While Scutaro’s numbers look good enough since he got back from the DL, his BABIP in that time is through the roof, which indicates decline sometime in the near future.

6.  Who will the Red Sox pick up (if anyone) at the trading deadline (includes the waiver deadline) for the stretch run?

Chip Buck: If you think Theo and the front office will go for broke at the July 31st trading deadline, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Given the Red Sox traded three very well regarded prospects to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, I don’t see them making another prospect depleting deal at the end of July.  Instead, look for them to focus on the August waiver-wire deadline, which will allow them to target low cost “value players.”  Right field (preferably right-handed), starting pitching, and middle relief will likely be their primary areas of concern.

Evan Brunell:  I don’t know who, but I think a fourth outfielder will be brought in, along with making a run for a starting pitcher. Ryan Spilborghs would once have been an attractive name, but he’s not putting up numbers this year.

Nick Underhill: The Red Sox need several things – an outfield bat, a healthy shortstop, starting pitching depth – but you can probably scratch names like Jose Reyes and Michael Cuddyer off of your wish list right now. Anyone acquired will just serve as spackling to an already sound foundation.

Marc Normandin: A left-handed reliever that can shut down lefties, as they are currently missing that player. Rich Hill should have been that guy, but his surgery has him out for the rest of the year. They may bring in a right-handed right fielder, such as Ryan Ludwick, but with Reddick hitting and capable of better defense than Ludwick can provide, they may not have to go that route.

Denton: The Red Sox will certainly be looking for a right-handed bat to come off the bench and play outfield. They are very left-handed-heavy across the board already and susceptible to lefty-specialists in the later innings. Bullpen additions are another near-certainty as  middle-inning stability is still a risk.

Matt Collins: The Red Sox should be looking at a couple of different spots to improve at the deadline. As I mentioned in question #4, they need a right handed bat in the outfield. It is possible they could reach for somebody like Carlos Beltran (who is a switch hitter), but I’d see them going more for a guy like a Ryan Ludwick, Ryan Spilborghs or even Michael Cuddyer. Also, look for trades helping the bullpen, specifically 6th and 7th inning guys.

7.  What will the Red Sox final record be?  Will the Red Sox make the playoffs?  If so, how far will they go?

Chip Buck: While I’m going to downgrade my W-L projection from 98-64 to 96-66, I’ll maintain my position that they’ll both win the division and the World Series (beating the Braves in six).  While the Red Sox certainly have their flaws; at the moment, they’re the most complete team in baseball.  A lot of it depends on how the trading deadline shakes out.  Still, as of today, I really like their chances.

Evan Brunell:  The final record will be 95 wins, which will be enough to take the division. Playoffs are a crapshoot, but I’ll go as far as winning the ALCS.

Nick Underhill: I think the Sox will go 93-69, make the playoffs and lose to the Phillies in the World Series.

Marc Normandin: 96-66. Whether that wins them the division or not is another question entirely, but I don’t know if the Rays have the horses to catch them this year — that depends a lot on the trade deadline. As for how far they will go, the playoff results are kind of a toss up. This team is good enough to go all the way, but that doesn’t mean they will. Anything can happen in five- and seven-game series, no matter how talented your club. Look no further than the Sox 2-10 start for evidence of that.

Denton: My preseason prediction for the Sox was 97 wins to win the East and I think they are still in good shape to accomplish that. Their poor start and recent injuries set them back a bit, but I think they are still the team to beat in the American League. I think they will make it to the World Series and have a legitimate shot at winning it.

Matt Collins: Looking into my crystal ball, I see the Red Sox finishing with the AL East crown, sporting a 97-65 record, edging out the Yankees by a game or two. After another classic ALCS between the two rivals, the Red Sox will lose the World Series in a closely fought six-game series against the Phillies, in which Adrian Gonzalez will make some sort of impact (probably negatively) defensively in right field.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Roundtable Discussion

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

7 Responses to “Fire Brand Mid-Season Roundtable Review” Subscribe

  1. Rob July 1, 2011 at 11:01 AM #

    My thoughts before reading the panel responses:
    1. Beckett – Maybe the biggest pre-season question mark has no questionably been the most consistently dominating pitcher.
    2. Crawford – Torn between him and Lackey, but I think Crawford had higher expectations coming in to the season, so he gets my vote.
    3. Lester has been good thus far, but I think he is poised to reassert himself as the Ace on this staff and take home his first Cy Young award.
    4. Iglesias. They need to solidify their defense up the middle. The other bats can subsidize his lack of production, and I think the Sox still believe pitching and defense wins championships.
    5. Bullpen. Pitching and defense. Bullpen helps win championships and they only have 2 guys they can rely on right now. I like moving Andrew Miller in there at some point (this season only) since they will only use 4 starters in the postseason anyways, and Miller is far more valuable out there than Wakefield.
    6. If they don't move Miller, look for a left-handed reliever or possibly an outfielder who hits from the right side.
    7. 96 wins. Yes on the playoffs. AL pennant.

    • ChipBuck July 1, 2011 at 3:33 PM #

      @Rob – Don't disagree with much in your comment, except your position on Iglesias. He's currently a .231 wOBA hitter in AAA. He has only 3 XBH and 9 walks in 232 PAs. Translate that to the MLB level, and his wOBA is hovering around the .200 mark, which is so far from acceptable it's not even funny. Even with a great lineup built around him, it's not enough to subsidize the number of runs he costs on offense. He'd be the worst hitter in all of baseball by a pretty fair margin. Even defense and baserunning couldn't make it up. He needs time–a lot of time–to develop into a hitter that's adequate at the MLB level. We're looking at a true 2013 or 2014 ETA.

  2. mattymatty July 1, 2011 at 11:44 AM #

    Who is this "Marc Normandin" guy and why doesn't he stop making so much damn sense?!

    • ChipBuck July 1, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

      Marc did a great job. Actually, everyone on the panel did a fantastic job. I was really happy with how it came out.

  3. Cory July 4, 2011 at 1:22 AM #

    Wll the math as of today shows us on pace for about 95-96 wins. But considering we should be getting back Crawford and Buchholz (both who were heating up) after the A-S Break, we should add a couple of more wins. I think we can get around a 97-98 wins. This may a little too much if we have a big lead and decide to rest some players.

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