The Red Sox have already played 51 baseball games this season.
While those of us who watch the team day in and day out know this to be factually true, it’s also easy to be caught off guard by that number. In many ways it seems like Opening Day was just last weekend, and it’s hard to believe that the season we waited on for many a month is now nearly one-third of the way towards completion.
Many around the Interwebs try and turn Memorial Day into a measuring stick of some sorts for both teams and individual players alike. While it’s certainly an arbitrary endpoint, and while not everything we’ve learned about player this year can be used as a predicator for future performance, it’s as good a time as any to look for trends through scouting and statistics that are either encouraging or troubling.
That being said, here’s a quick look at three areas where the Red Sox could see some dramatic changes come before everyone’s next favorite arbitrary benchmark, the All Star Break.
I’m not sure if anyone’s taken note of this yet, but Will Middlebrooks is not having a very good 2013 season. His slash line sits at .201/.234/.408. He’s striking out in about 30% of his plate appearances. He’s walked just seven times in 185 PA, and his fielding hasn’t been quite as sharp this season as it was a year ago either. His wRC++ is 63, and he’s netted -0.4 fWAR. The eight homers show that he can still launch a ball when he gets hold of one, but at-bats that don’t end in homers can induce cringing or drinking if you’re too invested.
Middlebrooks was somewhat mercifully placed on the DL with back issues last week, and while he’s probably genuinely banged up he could also certainly use the time to try and right the ship. Ideally, you’d probably want to see Middlebrooks rest and clear his head for a week to 10 days, then spend at least half of the 20-day rehab maximum in Triple-A. But while that timeframe might be best for Middlebrooks, it’s reasonable to doubt that is what’s best for the Sox.
Third base is the position with the least MLB-ready depth in the entire Red Sox organization. Pedro Ciriaco has proven largely incapable of playing the position – more on that later – and so Jose Iglesias has received the call, and looks like he’ll get the majority of WMB’s playing time. The offense Iglesias is likely to produce from third base is far from ideal, and it’s fair to wonder if the Sox will look to make a deal to bring in a more offensively-capable backup. Some believe the Sox may already have this in Brandon Snyder, but I digress.
The point here is that if Middlebrooks continues to struggle after his injury, the Sox need to do something to solidify the hot corner. The Red Sox would be foolish to give up on Middlebrooks entirely, as he could still be a big part of their future, but this is a team trying to win in 2013, and WMB isn’t helping that goal. Whether he’s replaced externally or an internal option such as Iglesias or the tempting Xander Bogaerts steps up, WMB is running out of time to assure himself starts in 2013. A change could be in the proverbial winds.
The timing here might seem a bit odd, as Felix Doubront just had one of his best starts of the season against the Indians, posting 8 Ks and allowing just 2 ER in 6 IP. But Doubront also allowed two homers and benefited from a .231 BABIP in the game, and he’s been maddeningly inconsistent and inefficient this season.
Advanced statistics suggest Doubront has been a bit unlucky this season, granting him a 3.87 FIP and 3.65 xFIP in contrast with his 5.29 ERA. Doubront’s .364 BABIP is the biggest culprit here, and his 13.2% HR/FB is likely leading to a more optimistic take on his future as well.
We can’t just dismiss Doubront’s performance out of hand, though, and a huge part of the reason he’s struggling to last deep into games is his 4.74 BB/9 and poor 1.66 WHIP. What’s interesting to me too is that Doubront’s O-Swing percentage is significantly lower than the league average (21.7% to 29.7%), suggesting to me that the league understands perfectly well that Doubront can be wild. Doubront’s first pitch strike percentage and swinging strike percentage are below average as well this year, which is never something you want to see from a “strikeout pitcher.”
I covered this in depth a few weeks ago, but in Allen Webster the Red Sox have a pitcher who may very well be able to outperform Doubront in the rotation right now. Obviously Webster’s last start was an unmitigated disaster, but he’s gone back down to Triple-A and largely dominated since. Like Doubront, Webster’s control could use some work as he’s walking 4.29 per 9 innings in Triple-A. But he’s done a better job keeping the ball in the park, and he has the ability to miss more bats than does Doubront as well.
I fully understand the argument for keeping Doubront in the rotation and letting Webster continue to develop, and I think that’s a plan the Sox will stick with for a while. But if Prince Felix’s ERA is still hovering around 5.00 come July and Webster is still dealing, expect the latter to get more of a chance than one start to stick in the big league rotation.
When the Red Sox were playing like a steaming pile of poop last season and there were few reasons to watch the club on a nightly basis, Ciriaco was a revelation. He beat out routine ground balls with regularity. He made a few great plays at shortstop. He ran like a madman on the bases. And most importantly, he absolutely killed the Yankees.
Most rational fans knew that eventually the clock would strike midnight and Ciriaco would turn back into a pumpkin, but it was reasonable to hope he’d at least re-made himself into a viable backup middle infielder, and one who could excel in a pinch running role on a team that has a need for some speed. While it’s tough to make conclusions after 51 PA, it would appear as though pumpkin reversion has occurred a bit sooner than we hoped, as Ciriaco has been a pretty big liability every time he’s taken the field this season.
Ciriaco is actually getting on base at a similar clip as last year – whatever that means through 44 at-bats – but a drop in BABIP has killed his average, and he’s gone just 2-for-3 in stolen base attempts. What matters more, though, is that Ciriaco has proven himself incapable of playing third base, leaving the Red Sox in a tenuous position thanks to the aforementioned struggles and injuries of Middlebrooks.
Iglesias is not as fast as Ciriaco and likely lacks the same bat-to-ball ability, but he’s an infinitely better defender, has a bit more power and isn’t a clogger on the base paths himself. While he can’t play third base for the Red Sox on a regular basis either, he appears to be the better choice there right now, and given his natural prowess in the infield his D could be enough to push Ciriaco out of a job. What WMB does when he recovers from injury will go a long way towards deciding Ciriaco’s fate, but he’s not all that likely to still be in a Red Sox uniform in August.