Third Base, lineup holes and bad defense

The Red Sox have been pretty awful at the hot corner this year, so Andre ponders the heck out of it.

Throughout the past decade, the third base position in Boston has been plentifully occupied with gritty, hard workers like Bill Mueller, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell, who helped the Red Sox reach new heights. Fast forward to 2013 and the position is a glaring weak spot in a powerful Red Sox lineup.

Heading into this season, the idea was for Will Middlebrooks to take the torch from Youkilis at third base. He did a great job last year and came into 2013 with high expectations, but a disappointing first half of the season featured him pining away in the minor leagues. Jose Iglesias appeared to be a decent backup plan early on, but his bat faded and eventually he was shipped to Detroit as part of the trade that brought Jake Peavy to Boston. Plan C – the duo of Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt – hasn’t been an improvement, either – as both have struggled to get on base.

The Red Sox simply haven’t gotten offensive production from the third base position all year long and this could be a cause for concern as the team inches closer toward the postseason.

Will Middlebrooks

Third base has had all the strikeouts this year. All of them. (CREDIT: Keith Allison, FLICKR)

The good news is that the team is getting plenty of offensive support from the other eight positions (DH included). The Red Sox are third in MLB in batting average at .273 and are first in OPS at .784 – which helps their overall success mask some of their failings – in particular their issues at third. However, it’s become increasingly difficult to mask their issues at third of late – especially given JUST how bad things have become – both offensively and defensively.

First off, Red Sox third basemen have an atrocious slash line of .230/.271/.370. The .230 average is the seventh worst in the Majors and since Iglesias’ departure, Holt and Snyder have combined to hit a measly .147. The defensive side of the coin hasn’t been much better- with the collection of third sackers combining for 18 errors this year – the 4th most in all of baseball. Their .941 fielding percentage and -10.9 UZR place them in the bottom five teams in the league in both categories.

Let’s face it – with all due respect to Holt and Snyder, they are not long-term solutions at hot corner. It’s that reason that the Red Sox have called up Will Middlebrooks again. As we’ve seen in the past, there’s plenty of power potential there. While his .268/.327/.464 slash line in Pawtucket has been somewhat unspectacular, we can hope that maybe there’s something to be said for rebounding after stints in the minors after witnessing what Jose Iglesias was able to put together after his demotion and subsequent call up.

Or maybe it’s time to be bold and finally call up the team’s best prospect, Xander Bogaerts. Mostly a shortstop, Bogaerts has spent some time at third base in the minors. There’s no doubt that Bogaerts will eventually get called up in September when the rosters expand, but why not just do it now and gain more experience?

Sure the team is already hitting well, but when opposing pitchers get tougher to face in the postseason, the Red Sox can’t afford to have any holes in their batting order, especially with their inconsistent pitching staff.

In recent Red Sox history, there is precedent of a late season rookie call-up providing a major impact during a postseason run. In 2007, Jacoby Ellsbury was called up in August of that season and quickly became an integral part of the Red Sox batting order and outfield. Bogaerts, at age 20, can potentially do the same at third base.

Whatever the Red Sox decide to do, holding onto Holt and Snyder is probably not going to work in the long run. If anything, having a mini-competition between Middlebrooks and Bogaerts in September for the third base spot could result in one of the two being hot heading into October, giving the Sox a much needed jolt from a position that’s currently blacked out due to a power outage.

Categories: Bill Mueller Brandon Snyder Brock Holt Jacoby Ellsbury Jake Peavy Jose Iglesias Kevin Youkilis Mike Lowell Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogaerts

About Andre Khatchaturian

View all posts by Andre Khatchaturian
Born in the sunbaked valleys of Southern California, Andre Khatchaturian grew up idolizing Mo Vaughn and as a result, became one of the members of Red Sox Nation West. Andre would later graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in Mathematical Economics. Wanting to pursue his passions, Andre became involved in sports analytics and has immersed himself in independent quantitative sports research since graduation. This led to his hiring at ESPN in the Stats & Information Group at Bristol, CT where he will be working part-time this year as he works on his Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University. He was a proud attendee of Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS and wonders why this game has slowly become one of the forgotten gems in Red Sox history. Follow him on Twitter @AndreKhatch.

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