One of the biggest strengths of last year’s Red Sox team was the strong performances the squad got from its bench spots. Indeed, Boston’s depth proved crucial in taking advantage of platoon pairings on a nightly basis, softening the blow of any injuries to starters, and delivering at the plate when called upon to pinch-hit.
Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Jose Iglesias (remember him?) did a tremendous job filling in when a starter went down with injury, with Gomes especially making a habit of coming up big in crucial situations. David Ross didn’t provide much at the plate (a mid-season concussion didn’t help his cause any), but the veteran catcher did bring some pop in his bat and a steadying hand when working with the club’s pitching staff.
Even the likes of Ryan Lavarnway, Brandon Snyder, and ultimately Xander Bogaerts chipped in with big hits down the stretch, as the Red Sox kept plugging in holes with organizational depth whenever they needed.
Boston’s bench was a huge part of the team’s success in 2013, though that hasn’t quite carried over to this season. The Red Sox’s struggles on offense have been due, in part, to their inability to re-create last year’s depth, though with three starters departing in the offseason and two rookies stepping into full-time roles, this downtick in production shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Still, the club’s role players haven’t performed as expected in 2014, although improvements should come as the summer months arrive. No one expected Daniel Nava to fall off a cliff after an impressive 2013 campaign, and his demotion to Triple-A has put a strain on the rest of the Red Sox bench.
Without Nava, Gomes has been given more full-time responsibility, which doesn’t suit him as well as his platoon role. In addition, Carp has fallen back down to earth after hitting nearly everything hard last year, as the 27-year-old has given the Red Sox just three extra-base hits and no home runs.
Ben Cherington’s offseason acquisitions, which were supposed to help replenish the club’s roster after the departures of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew, haven’t worked out yet either. Grady Sizemore arrived with much fanfare after a strong spring, but beyond a few exciting moments, the former Indian hasn’t provided much production at the plate for Boston. Jonathan Herrera, who was intended to help stabilize the infield, has performed below-replacement level thus far both at the plate and in the field.
Brock Holt proved to be a spark plug in his brief cameo with Will Middlebrooks out, yet the Red Sox brass prefer Holt down in Triple-A for the time being.
There should be some reason for optimism regarding Boston’s role players, however. These are guys who have had success in the past, and judging by their career norms, they should start contributing to the Red Sox offense sooner rather than later.
Sizemore has cut down both his strikeout and swinging-strike rate this year, and his .263 BABIP indicates he might see a few more balls drop in for hits as the season continues. At the very least, the 31-year-old has shown flashes of the extra-base hit ability that made him so formidable in Cleveland, and he deserves a bit more time before Boston begins searching for other options.
A similar case can be made for Mike Carp, who has hit right-handers well throughout his career and shown far more pop than his current .333 slugging percentage suggests. Carp was an unheralded player for the Red Sox in 2013, and getting his bat going again would be a huge boost for Boston’s offense.
While Jonathan Herrera was never expected to carry the offensive burden, he too has been far better throughout his career than his current .184/.279/.184 line suggests. Even if Herrera can’t pick up his production, Holt looms as a solid replacement and has hit the ball well in both Triple-A and the majors this season.
None of Boston’s bench options will suddenly catch fire and help the Red Sox re-create their league-leading offense of 2013. Yet, taken together, every player has hit far better throughout their career than they have this season, and improvement from each would certainly help lift the club’s offense as a whole.
With Shane Victorino back in the lineup, Gomes is now back to being a more situational option, a role he has thrived in during past seasons. The Red Sox can also expect positive regression from Sizemore, Carp, and Herrera, and if that improvement never comes, they can at least call upon Holt, Brandon Snyder, Bryce Brentz, or Alex Hassan down in Triple-A if need be.
Heck, Daniel Nava might even make a triumphant return from Pawtucket.
As the Red Sox dig themselves out of a bumpy first six weeks, reasons for optimism are starting to sprout. Boston’s bench, which can only improve upon its early-season struggles, should start to become the asset it was intended to be.