Ryan Kalish: Why Red Sox Outfielder Is an X-Factor in the Team's Playoff Push

Chris MahrContributor IJuly 4, 2012

Ryan Kalish: Why Red Sox Outfielder Is an X-Factor in the Team's Playoff Push

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    An X-factor is not necessarily a team’s most important player. But he does all the little things.

    Taking the extra base. Holding speedy runners to singles on balls hit in the gap. Drawing well-deserved walks.

    And if an X-factor doesn’t execute, it makes it that much harder on his team's fortunes.

    Boston’s 3–2 loss to Oakland on July 3 showed Ryan Kalish’s X-factor ability—for better and for worse. His aggression is what every team needs, but when it’s not harnessed, it can lead to errors both mental and literal.

    But if he uses the strengths of his game properly, Kalish can contribute a lot of those little things that will put Boston back in the postseason discussion.

    Five of his X-factor qualities follow.

Speed

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    On Boston’s current 40-man roster, perhaps only Jacoby Ellsbury can cover more ground than Ryan Kalish.

    So it’s little surprise that Kalish has been patrolling center field in Ellsbury’s absence since Kalish returned from his 2.5-month stint on the DL to start 2012.

    He’s capable of making difficult catches—like his sliding grab of a Jose Reyes blooper on June 19—seem routine.

    His highlight-worthy grabs would be enough of a spark for the Sox, but Kalish puts his speed to good use on the basepaths as well.

    As a rookie in 2011, Kalish was 10-for-11 in steals in just 53 games. Even when the return of Ellsbury and Carl Crawford from the DL sends Kalish to the bench, he can be a valuable pinch runner in late-game situations a la Dave Roberts in 2004.

Grit/Hustle

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    Ryan Kalish’s hard-charging ways make him an obvious Dirt Dog candidate.

    His constant layouts in the outfield were discussed in the previous slide. He can also book it down the first-base line when an infield hit is in his sights.

    His raw aggression would make Pete Rose proud.

    In an August 2010 game against the Indians, Kalish collided so hard with Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana—who was blocking home plate—that Santana underwent season-ending surgery three days later to repair a torn lateral collateral ligament.

    Of course, that no-holds-barred mentality has its drawbacks.

    In 2011 Kalish underwent separate surgeries to repair a bulging disc in his neck and a torn labrum in his left shoulder—the latter of which was the reason for his early-season DL stint in 2012.

    And in Boston’s 3-2 loss to Oakland, Kalish’s aggression cost him in the ninth inning when he was caught trying to steal third and bobbled a ball in the outfield.

    Still, his in-your-face style of play provides a much-needed jolt of energy.

Timely Hitting

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    Ryan Kalish has only hit .250 with a .280 OBP in 14 games since his return from the DL. But when he has made contact, he’s made it count.

    His line-drive single against the Cubs on June 17 in his first game back provided the go-ahead run. Most recently, he led off the top of the 10th inning against the Mariners on July 1 with a pinch-hit double, scoring the game-winning run two batters later.

    Those who are surprised by Kalish’s clutch hitting shouldn’t be.

    Of his four career home runs, two have been grand slams—against the Angels (August 17, 2010) and Rays (September 6, 2010). His first major league home run was in Yankee Stadium.

    Some of the biggest Red Sox hits of the past decade came courtesy of supporting players such as Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon and Bobby Kielty.

    Kalish could be next in line.

Capable Injury Replacement

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    Until Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford get back into the lineup and find their grooves again, the Red Sox will take the contributions of a capable stand-in in a heartbeat.

    Ryan Kalish doesn’t have Ellsbury’s penchant for a high batting average, patience at the plate or his slugging capabilities. And Crawford is a little more dangerous on the basepaths (by reputation).

    Boston isn’t asking Kalish to match or exceed the reputations of those he’s filling in for. The Red Sox are asking him to contribute in his own unique way, with his defense and overall hustle.

    If Kalish can keep the Sox in games—and close in the standings—his impact will have been felt.

Fan-Favorite Potential

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    How does being a fan favorite help one’s team in the standings?

    For starters, when the established stars see the reception that their more unheralded teammates receive, they can be motivated to maintain (if not exceed) their own performances.

    And when Dirt Dogs like Ryan Kalish give even the most jaded of fans something to love, those same fans will spend less time scrutinizing the shortcomings of Boston’s big stars.

    It’s a seemingly dual-purpose identity. Fan favorites in Boston can somehow pressure their better-known, higher-paid teammates into better performances while simultaneously relieving the pressure on themselves.

    It goes a long way in a team’s trip to October.