We're halfway through the 2012 season and naturally, we're wondering how the Red Sox will fare for the rest of the year. At first glance, you might think the sky is falling due to Adrian Gonzalez's insane lack of power and weak starting pitching, but the Red Sox are not the utter disaster the media is making them out to be.
2012 strikes me exactly like 2006. There are some good core players and young talent with bright futures. Yet, although we like what we see in Saltalamacchia, Middlebrooks, Kalish and Felix Doubront, we can be realistic and say it's not their year to win a World Series title. Perhaps they can sneak into the playoffs, but I don't see them getting past the Yankees. Realistically, I bet they'll end up 85-77 and just miss the playoffs.
No matter what, don't let the media mess with your head. Look up and down the roster and there is enough talent to boost your spirits. Let's scroll down the diamond.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has taken off this year and it's been a pleasure to watch. Overall, I don't think Theo Epstein had a good eye for talent, but he was smart to buy low on Saltalamacchia. It has certainly paid off. The best thing about Salty is that he's still only 27 years old! ESPN has him on pace to play 128 games and hit .235 with 32 HR and 77 RBI. His critical OBP/SLG/OPS line stands at .285/.513/.798, and that's excellent for a catcher. He's shown good leadership skills and calls a fine game.
My one nitpick with Salty is his plate discipline. I will be thrilled if he can boost his OBP about 50 points to the .335-.340 range. All he needs to do is be a little more patient (just 16 BB in 230 AB) and cut down on his Wily Mo Pena whiffs. In case you're wondering, the phrase "Wily Mo Pena whiffs" is a new term I just invented. The definition of a Wily Mo whiff is as follows: (a) helping the pitcher out by swinging at a horrible pitch (b) chasing pitches out of the strike zone (c) taking a third strike that replays show the umpire called correctly.
If, God forbid, Saltalamacchia gets injured, The Red Sox have a nice reserve in Kelly Shoppach. I bet if Shoppach had to catch full time, he'd handle the staff and hit reasonably well. He's doesn't have as much wear and tear on him that other 32 year-old catchers have. 2008 was the one year Shoppach got semi-regular playing time, and he was productive.
Four years ago he hit .261 with 21 HR and 55 RBI in 352 at bats with a very nice 348/.517/.865 (OBP/SLG/OPS) line. This year his critical sabermetrics stats are .358/.527/.885. The old Dan Duquette draft pick has given the team some right-handed pop off the bench. We shouldn't forget Ryan Lavarnway and the hitting talent he's shown so far. The talent the team has at catcher is a terrific logjam!
It's hard to resist the urge to overrate Daniel Nava, but he is a nice story. Even when Crawford, Ellsbury and Sweeney come back, he needs to stay on the roster. He could start on some teams, but will make a nice fifth outfielder/pinch runner with the Red Sox. His defense is adequate and he has the swing to bounce doubles off the Wall at an alarming rate. Sabermetrics wise, he fits their profile nicely. In 171 at-bats, Nava was walked 26 times for a sweet .388 OBP.
Will Middlebrooks looks like a quality big league player. Can you also see him as the old school low OBP free-swinging third-base slugger? Every time he swings for the fences I can see him putting up a .265, 33 HR, 108 RBI, .344/.488/.832 season. I bet if you combined Gary Gaetti and Mike Lowell you'd get Will Middlebrooks.
Defensively, I see a ton of great potential. His arm looks both accurate and strong. He can scoop up grounders quickly, change directions well and his range is more than fine. In the long term, I don't think the Red Sox will have to worry about Middlebrooks' defense with a vacuum cleaner like Jose Iglesias ready to play in Boston soon.
Andrew Miller looked like a major bust in Detroit and Florida. He was rushed to the majors, walked way too many hitters and was too inconsistent. But he also had the kind of intangibles that made scouts drool.
A 6'7" lefty who can sling the heat is going to get a lot of chances before MLB gives up on him. For a while, I thought he was a lefty Daniel Cabrera—a flame thrower that did not have the stamina or control to cut it in the majors. On the bright side, Miller has reinvented himself as a quality middle reliever who can mow hitters down with the heat.
Felix Doubront has shown some talent. I'm a big fan of letting young players get regular work so that they can maximize their potential. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are two recent examples of pitchers that developed because they knew they were going to get regular turns in the starting rotation. As far as Doubront is concerned, so far so good! In 17 starts this year, he's gone 9-4 with a 4.41 ERA.
Franklin Morales looks like a critical No. 5 or No. 6 starter that every team needs. Both guys will give the Red Sox valuable depth when Beckett and Clay make their frequent trips to the disabled list.
Alfredo Aceves was terrible at first, but he turned into a nice plan B closer once we learned that Andrew Bailey was going to be out for awhile. I'm worried Bailey won't be effective when he comes back. How is he going to grip the ball or throw his stuff with any kind of confidence? Luckily, Aceves is not old (he'll be 30 in December) and has shown that he can start and close during his time with the Red Sox.
It can be difficult to be optimistic and see the good in your team, especially when a chunk of the roster is wildly overpaid and not producing up to their talent level. Nevertheless, I'm here to tell you the Sox are in OK shape. There is some good on the Red Sox horizon—a great catching situation, some good bench guys, a stable closer, quality middle relief, fairly productive hitters and talent at the back end of the rotation.
Thankfully for us, the Sox are one of the big-market teams. If we can just get ownership to stop exploiting the luxury tax as an excuse to be cheap and get lucky on some pitchers, they can be a World Series contender again.