Dustin Pedroia

Today, I’m taking a look at five pressing (ok, four pressing and one not so pressing) questions that are currently facing the Red Sox organization.  Let’s jump right in!

5.  Should we be concerned with Matt Barnes‘s performance in Portland?

Entering the season, Matt Barnes was widely considered to not only be one of the Red Sox’s best prospects, but one of the very best prospects in the game.  He was ranked #3 in the system by SoxProspects, John Sickles of MinorLeagueBall, and Baseball America, and ranked #38 overall by MLB.com and #40 overall by Baseball America.  Certainly, expectations entering the season for the 23-year old righty were high, especially considering the relative dominance he displayed while pitching in the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues last season.

Predictably, with the jump to Double-A, Barnes has hit his share of speed bumps.  Through his start on Sunday, here’s how he’s been performing this season:

3-2, 5.62 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7 HRs allowed, 56/15 K/BB in 49-2/3 innings

It’s a bit of a mixed bag.  His K/BB ratio is fantastic.  He’s striking out more than a batter an inning, and he’s limiting his walks at nearly the same rate he did while pitching in high-A Salem last season.  The fact neither of these indicator declined are a sign that we need to keep looking at him as a serious prospect. At the very least, he has something on which to build.

On the flip side, he’s allowing far too many hits and home runs; hence his 5.62 ERA.  Some of this may be due to luck.  He’s allowed a .362 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which indicates his performance in this respect can be partially attributed to pitching in front of a less than optimal defense.

Having said that, I wonder if his problems have more to do with command than misfortune.  Based on his 25.6% strikeout rate 6.9% walk rate, it’s probably safe to say that he’s pounding the zone with regularity.  If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be missing bats and limiting walks.  Instead, he may be spending a little too much time in the zone; consistently throwing strikes, but not always throwing quality strikes.  The lower quality strikes he used to get away with in college and at both levels of A-ball are getting hit hard by the advanced hitters in the Eastern League.  Essentially, he probably just needs to make a few adjustments, similar to what Allen Webster is doing in Pawtucket.

For what it’s worth, it appears he may be on his way toward making these adjustments.  Despite a rough April, and a brutal start on Sunday (7 runs on 6 hits, 0 walks, and 2 strikeouts in 1-2/3 innings), he performed beautfully in May producing a 2.65 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP and a 37/9 K/BB in 34 innings.  His stats aren’t where they need to be, but he’s still a top five prospect in the Red Sox farm system.

4.  Does the Boston sports media have a Dustin Pedroia fetish?

In a single word, yes.  It’s not just Pedroia, though, and this fetish not just limited to the Boston media.  On ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, John Kruk gushed about how Pedroia and the Red Sox are full of the grittiest scrapsters to ever grind it out on the baseball diamond.  Really though, any short, preferrably scruffy baseball player will do to fit this particular media fetish.  Dustin Pedroia just really captures the media’s fancy.

3.  Does Garin Cecchini have anything left to prove in Salem?

While I don’t recall Cecchini making any top 100 lists last season (he just missed making Baseball America’s and Keith Law’s), he certainly will after this season.  In fact, Keith Law has already named him his 23rd best prospect (behind the pay wall) in his latest itteration of his list.  Really, it’s hard to blame him.

Through June 3rd, Cecchini has produced a .364/.481/.580 slash line with 24 extra base hits (15 doubles, four triples, and five homers), 30 RBI, 14 steals, and a 35/27 BB/K ratio through 216 plate appearances.  Just to put that in perspective, Cecchini’s 1.061 OPS is more than 100 points higher than his nearest qualifying competitor, and 355 points higher than the Carolina League average of .706.  He’s not just tearing up the Carolina League, he’s torching it General Sherman style.

So does Cecchini have anything left to prove in the high-A ball?  No, not in the slightest.  Unfortunately, he’s currently blocked by rising 1B/3B prosect Michael Almanzar.  While Almanzar is hitting .282/.347/.500 in 225 plate appearances in Portland, this is only his first stint at the level.  IT’s probably more prudent for them to take it slowly with him and delay a promotion.  Additionally, with Travis Shaw, who showed considerable promise between Salem and Portland last season, covering first base, it’s not like Almanzar can be easily flipped across the diamond without an injury occurring to Shaw.  At least for the time being, Cecchini appears to be stuck in high-A ball–but hopefully, not for too long.

2.  Is Jon Lester being overworked?

After seeing John Farrell send Jon Lester out to pitch the seventh inning on Friday, despite having already hurled 107 pitches, I started wondering if Lester was perhaps being worked a little too hard.  Being the curious, analytical guy I am, I went to Baseball-Reference and  found that Lester had already thrown 1315 pitches this year for an average of 109.6 pitches per start.  Naturally, his workload has gotten progressively heavier as the season has gone on:  96 pitches, 100, 100, 115, 115, 100, 115, 118, 107, 109, 124, 116.  While that’s hardly excessive, it should be noted that his performance has been at it’s nadir over the last three starts as we’ve seen his ERA rise from 2.72 to 3.53.  That may very well be coincidence, but it should be noted as a possibility.

To be honest, it’s tough to say whether or not Lester is being overworked.  He’s not exactly a stranger to games where he’s thrown 115+ pitches.  In his career, he’s done so 33 times over his 199 career starts.  Having said that, he’s never made more than seven such starts in a given season (2012), and he’s already done so six times in 12 starts.  Giving Lester a slightly less arduous workload over the next start or two certainly wouldn’t hurt.  He’ll need to do his part though, by pitching efficiently inning-by-inning.

For more information on Lester’s workload, I highly recommend Alex Speier’s piece on the subject.

1.  Is Jose Iglesias for real?

I’m going to crush this one quickly.  The answer is no.  My reasoning?  One time on South Park, Mr. Garrison told Wendy, “I’m sorry.  I just don’t trust something that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.”  That logic applies to Iglesias…well, sort of.  How do I mean?  I just don’t trust someone who produces a .588 career OPS in 916 plate appearances in AAA to hit in the majors.

Look, I understand the excitement surrounding Igleisas.  He’s hitting .434/.456/.585 while using an aggressive approach at the plate.  He’s spraying line drives and hitting doubles.  Hell, he even hit a home run on Sunday against the Yankees.  He’s channeling the power of Enrique Iglesias’s whisper filled singing voice because he desperately wants to “Escape” from Pawtucket and be Boston’s “Hero” tonight. Surely, this time, it’s all clicked for him, right?  Here’s what the incomperable Chad Finn of Boston.com had to say about the issue:

“Iglesias’s batting average on balls in play is .512 and he’s hitting line drives in just 14.3 percent of his at-bats, statistical confirmation of what your eyes should tell you — he’s had a enough gorks, ground balls, and dying quails fall in already this season to make Crash Davis jealous.

That simply does not last. You’d think the lessons of putting instant faith in a player who puts up big numbers in a puny sample would have been learned with Pedro Ciriaco last summer, or to a slightly different degree, Jackie Bradley Jr. this spring. I suspect the Venn Diagram of those who thought Ciriaco was the shortstop solution last spring and those who believe we’re seeing the real Iglesias now looks like one giant circle.”

Thank god! Someone else on this planet is sane!  Ciriaco and Bradley aren’t the only good examples either.  How about Darnell McDonald in April 2010?  Or The Legend of Jed Lowrie aka the “One Month Wonder” in September 2010 and April 2011?  Or David Ortiz in April 2008, the first half of 2009, and April 2010?

The problems here are bias and small sample size.  We all want Iglesias to be someone who can hit in the major leagues because (a) he’s an unbelievably spectacular defensive shortstop, and (b) we’d had the “He’s our shortstop of the future” hype shoved down our throat for the past three-plus years.  We’ve been waiting, he’s here, and now he’s hitting the cover off of the ball.  Of course, everyone’s excited.  In a way, it’s validation.

What I don’t understand is why we’re so willing to believe these 57 plate appearances; especially given the fact he’s never produced anything that approaches this production at any point his his American professional baseball career.  He didn’t produce in his season in double-A, his two-plus in triple-A, nor during his brutal 77 plate appearance call-up in September.  The whole mosaic together should disprove everything we’re seeing right now because logical, rational thought shows that this is, in all likelihood, just a really lucky stretch for Iglesias.

Some have already started touting that he’s playing better simply because he’s in the majors.  To which I ask, was he dogging it at the plate in the minors?   Was he giving less than his best because he felt it was beneath him?  Even with his reported suspension for maturity issues as a result of him being demoted in April, I don’t buy that argument.  It’s ridiculous and non-sensical because it flies in the face of statistical analysis and countless scouting reports.

I hate to break it to you, but Iglesias is probably as good of a hitter as he’s shown in AAA.  Will he improve?  Maybe, maybe not.  Three years at Pawtucket haven’t shown any improvement.  The biggest problem for Iglesias is that he’s not even the best shortstop in the system right now.  That honor goes to Xander Bogaerts.