Bobby Valentine and David Ortiz have been big news-makers for the 2012 Red Sox.
The Boston Red Sox have passed the 81-game mark of the season, and the team has finally begun to take on the look of a contender in the tough American League East. After a sloppy start that saw the Sox stumble to a 12-19 record, they have rallied nicely en route to their current mark of 42-40.
Despite their lack of consistency on the field, the Sox have regularly made news off it. Whether it was manager Bobby Valentine making ill-timed comments about his players, Josh Beckett playing golf while injured or the Kevin Youkilis trade speculation, the glare of the media spotlight has been strong all season.
The other main storyline for the Sox has been injuries. They have suited up 13 different outfielders, and have also weathered injuries to several key pitchers.
The fact that this team sits only 7.5 games out of first place is fairly remarkable, given the incredible roster turnover that has taken place over the first half of the season.
Their decent position in the standings serves as a testament to not just the tremendous organizational depth the Sox currently have, but also the competitive spirit of these players who have stepped into key roles and performed so capably.
While injuries are certainly a factor in any baseball season, what the Sox have endured is a sufficient enough excuse for most teams to simply pack it in on their season. Particularly after last season’s tumultuous end and this year’s poor beginning, Sox fans expected that this might be the case.
However, this team has instead shown quite a bit of character in weathering these difficult circumstances. Many of the players have performed beyond what could have reasonably been expected of them, compensating for those who have struggled.
Let’s take a look at the Sox active roster and assess how each player has performed at the halfway point of the 2012 season.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the long list of players currently out due to injury.
At different times this season, the Sox have gotten strong performances from Clay Buchholz, Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsednik. Each has contributed quite a bit to this team, and will likely continue to do so once they return from injury.
Closer Andrew Bailey and left fielder Carl Crawford are both rehabbing and are yet to take the field this season, but both will be expected to fill key roles once they return. Jacoby Ellsbury did not get off to a great start (5-for-26), although prior to his shoulder injury he had begun to show signs of life at the plate.
Although they haven’t submitted complete bodies of work, several of these players have done enough to at least earn a preliminary grade.
Buchholz: D– (4/8-5/21); B+ (5/27-6/19)
Key Stats: 4.32 ERA, 19/23 saves, 1.18 WHIP
Normally a long reliever, Aceves was thrust into the role of closer when Andrew Bailey went down with a thumb injury in Spring Training. It was a whirlwind week for Aceves, who had been a candidate for a spot in the starting rotation only days prior to being named closer.
Despite some early struggles as he adjusted to his new role, Aceves has acquitted himself quite well as a closer. He loves taking the ball at every opportunity, even working four days in a row on one occasion this season.
While his ERA is a bit higher than the Sox would like it to be, Aceves deserves to hold onto his job for the rest of the season, even after Bailey returns.
Key Stats: 2.51 ERA, 30 appearances, 5 home runs allowed
Albers has been a huge piece for the Sox out of the bullpen this year. After posting a 4.73 ERA for the Sox last year, it was perfectly reasonable not to expect great things from him in 2012.
However, Albers has become an absolute rock for Bobby Valentine’s team, and has proven that he can be relied upon in any situation.
The one concerning stat is his home runs allowed. When a reliever allows a home run, its effect is greatly amplified compared to when a starter allows one; Albers will need to lower this rate of momentum-shifting homers allowed in the second half of the season.
Key Stats: 1.47 ERA, 34 appearances, 0.953 WHIP
Atchison has been a revelation this year for the Sox. After being cast aside time and again by former manager Terry Francona, the 36-year-old reliever has found new life under Valentine.
Atchison has been dominant this year, posting career-best numbers across the board. He has been a hugely reliable presence for the Sox out of the bullpen, and in fact did not allow a run in the entire month of May (11 appearances, 17.0 innings).
Although he has started to show some decline recently (3.09 ERA in 13 June appearances), the right-hander should continue to be a reliable presence for the Sox.
Key Stats: 4-7 record, 1.150 WHIP, 6.4 K/9
Beckett has battled injuries this season, but these have seemingly not had a huge impact on his performance. For all the hubbub over his infamous golf outing, the right-hander has strung together a 2.72 ERA in the seven starts since getting crushed against the Indians in the aftermath of “Golfgate.”
The one red flag for Beckett this year is his strikeout rate. While some of this lack of strikeouts can be attributed to his injury issues, the fact that his K/9 rate this season (6.4) is almost two full strikeouts less than last year (8.2) has to be cause for concern.
In all, though, Beckett has been fairly reliable this year. However, his seven losses indicate that he needs to do a bit more in the second half if the Sox are to contend.
Key Stats: 4 starts, 0.8 BB/9, 1.38 GB/FB
After a false start in his first appearance when he sustained a massive gash on his knee, Cook has done a nice job filling in for the oft-injured Sox starters this year.
His finest performance came in his start against the Seattle Mariners on June 29, in which he fired a complete game, two-hit shutout while throwing just 81 pitches. Although he recorded just two strikeouts, Cook’s ability to control the ball and keep it on the ground ensured he’d still be recording a lot of outs.
An All-Star in 2008, Cook has proven that he can succeed against big league hitters. The Sox are hoping he can continue this recent upward trend en route to a strong second half.
Key Stats: 16 starts, 8 wins, 91 strikeouts
After his June 2 win against the Blue Jays, Doubront looked like the most reliable starter the Sox had. He had a 3.75 ERA and six wins to his credit in his first 11 starts, never failing to go at least 5.0 innings.
In five starts since then, the young left-hander has not fared as well. His ERA over that stretch is a robust 5.93, and twice Doubront has failed to get out of the fifth inning. Opponents are starting to square up the ball, batting at a .309 clip over that same time frame.
There is increasing concern that Doubront—who has never thrown more than 129.1 innings in a season at any professional level—may be fatiguing. He’ll need to use the All-Star break to rest up and be ready for the second half to assuage those fears.
Key Stats: 108.0 IP, 4.33 ERA, 9.4 H/9
Expected to be the ace of this Sox staff, Lester has instead been a fairly average pitcher this season.
He has shown glimpses of the Cy Young contender who nearly won 20 games in 2010 and was brilliant for the first five months of 2011. However, too many times this year Lester has regressed to someone whose WAR (0.4) is barely above that of a replacement player.
Lester has allowed a lot of hits this season; his 9.4 H/9 rate is his worst since his rookie year in 2006. The left-hander will need to turn things around in the second half if the Sox want to get back into contention.
Key Stats: 5 starts, 6.65 ERA, 4.2 IP per start
After making a quick recovery from Tommy John surgery, Matsuzaka looked to be slowly regaining his form going into his July 2 start at Oakland. However, after failing to get out of the second inning, he was headed back to the DL with the same neck stiffness that slowed his rehab.
Fans have long given up trying to explain the Daisuke enigma. He can be brilliant at times and maddeningly inconsistent at others. While his excessive nibbling at the strike zone can be frustrating, it often translates into at least decent numbers.
This year, though, things have not gone as well. While the sample size remains too small to make a definitive judgment, the Sox will need to watch Matsuzaka closely when he returns.
Key Stats: 49.50 ERA before demotion, 0.93 ERA after
Remember when Melancon was going to be the closer if Andrew Bailey got hurt?
Four disastrous April outings and a 49.50 ERA later, the right-hander was down in Pawtucket and many fans assumed he would never be heard from again. After a lights-out stint for the PawSox, though, Melancon earned another shot with the Major League club.
He has responded quite well. In nine appearances since being recalled, Melancon has allowed just one earned run over 9.2 innings pitched.
Right now, Valentine has been careful to use Melancon in low-leverage situations. The key for the rest of the season with him, then, will be how he responds when the pressure escalates.
Grade: F (4/5-4/17); B+ (6/11-Present)
Key Stats: 24 appearances, 1.86 ERA, 0.931 WHIP
One of the best (and most unheralded) moves the Sox have made this year was converting Miller to a full-time reliever. After struggling with his consistency as a starter, the once-highly touted prospect has blossomed as a left-handed option out of the bullpen.
Miller has struggled with his control throughout his career. This season, though, he seems to have found something that works; his 2.8 BB/9 rate is by far the lowest of his career, and his 9.3 SO/9 is by far his highest.
While some of these positive changes can be attributed simply to the switch from starter to reliever, the fact remains that Miller has vastly improved. If he continues on this path in the second half of the year, he will legitimate his rise to being of the premier lefty setup men in the AL.
Key Stats: 26 appearances (3 starts), 2.51 ERA, 9.6 SO/9
When the Sox acquired Morales in May of 2011 for cash considerations, they had no idea what kind of player they were getting. Morales’ versatility has been invaluable this year, and his recent results show the Sox may have a legitimate, long-term starter on their hands.
At 26 years old, Morales is still early stages of his career. He has been able to shift seamlessly to fit the team’s needs this season, going from setup man to long reliever to starter.
As a starter is where he has truly shined. In his three starts, Morales has allowed just four earned runs in 18.0 innings, giving the Sox a huge lift when they desperately needed it.
Given this performance, we may see more of Morales in the rotation in the second half. If he can remain this consistent, the Sox will have pulled off one of the greatest steals in recent memory.
Key Stats: 1.35 ERA, 20.0 IP, 0.650 WHIP
Used primarily as a long man out of the bullpen, Mortensen has been a pleasant surprise this year. The lesser-known half of the Marco Scutaro deal did not generate much buzz heading into this season and spent the first month of the year in Triple-A Pawtucket.
However, since being recalled for good at the end of June he has been excellent. His last outing, especially, showed his versatility.
Mortensen went 5.0 innings in relief of injured starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, tossing 71 pitches while allowing just one earned run.
This ability to eat innings can be invaluable in the “dog days” of August, and Mortensen should continue to show that he belongs in the big leagues.
Key Stats: 3.48 ERA, 18 holds, 12.0 (and counting) consecutive scoreless innings
The master of the eephus pitch has been another huge find for the Sox this year, emerging as the primary setup man for closer Alfredo Aceves. After initially bristling at being put in the bullpen, Padilla has flourished to the tune of 18 holds and a 2-0 record.
His relatively high ERA is quite deceiving as well; if one disastrous April outing against the Yankees is eliminated, this number shrinks to 2.05.
Padilla has been dominant lately, having not allowed an earned run since a May 23 win against the Baltimore Orioles. If he can continue this mighty effort in the second half of the season, the Sox bullpen will continue its dominant ways.
Key Stats: 16 HR, .823 OPS, 18% CS
Offensively, Saltalamacchia has been the most pleasant surprise for the Sox this season. The switch-hitting catcher has been a steady force all year, and has emerged as Valentine’s choice to protect David Ortiz in the lineup.
This type of performance has been a long time coming for Salty, who has accumulated a lot of doubters after coming up as a top ranked prospect in 2007. The Sox would like to see him improve upon his ability to throw out runners (just 18% caught), although this is equally a symptom of the pitchers’ inability to hold runners on.
The Sox will need their catcher to continue his torrid May and June as they try to climb back into the thick of the pennant race in the second half.
Key Stats: .522 SLG, 29% CS, 14 XBH/90 AB
Shoppach was brought in to be a strong defensive backup to Saltalamacchia, and he has come exactly as advertised. The burly catcher has shown incredible agility behind the plate, blocking balls in the dirt and making plays that do not show up in the box score but make a huge difference over the course of the game.
He has also shown some pop with the bat, clubbing 14 extra base hits in just 90 at bats. Although Shoppach is not known for his offense, this piece of his game has given the Sox much more confidence in putting him out there when Saltalamacchia needs a day off.
With Ryan Lavarnway waiting in the wings in Pawtucket, Shoppach could be trade bait as the July 31 deadline approaches. However, the Sox should seriously consider keeping him around for his ability and experience.
Key Stats: 80 G, 20 2B, 43 RBI
The whole “Iglesias vs. Aviles” debate feels like years ago.
Aviles quickly put that whole controversy to rest with an excellent April in which he hit .291 with five home runs and 17 RBI while playing excellent defense. While there were initially questions about whether he could stay on the field, Aviles has been a model of durability in 2012 and is third on the team in games played.
His versatility in the lineup has given the Sox a huge lift as well. He has spent multiple games hitting in six of the nine spots in the batting order, including 36 at leadoff.
Going forward, the Sox will hope Aviles can maintain his solid production and emerge as a viable shortstop option in subsequent seasons.
Key Stats: .275 BA, .404 SLG, 6 HR
As the centerpiece of the Sox lineup and someone who received one of the biggest contracts in team history, Gonzalez is justifiably held to a higher standard than most players on the Sox. He showed what he could do in the first half of last season, swatting 16 home runs and driving in 74 through 82 games.
This year has been like watching a different player. Gonzalez seems continually flummoxed at the plate, and his power numbers have suffered as a result.
To his credit, Gonzalez has been arguably the most unselfish member of the Sox this season. When it became clear Will Middlebrooks needed to play and the Sox outfield was at its most depleted, the Gold Glover selflessly moved to right field despite his apparent discomfort playing out there.
Gonzalez has shown signs of emerging from his funk, and he’ll need to be at his best for the Sox to make any noise in the crowded AL East.
Key Stat: 8 AB
There’s not a lot to say about Lillibridge, who came over in the trade that sent Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox. His eight at-bats don’t give Sox fans much to assess.
It appears as if the utilityman will be deployed mostly as an outfielder; of his six appearances for the Sox, he has been in either right or center field for five of them.
Because the Youkilis trade was meant more to get the disgruntled third baseman out of town rather than to bring in talent, expectations for Lillibridge are low. Nevertheless, he will quickly win the team and fans over if he can show he has some value at the plate and in the field.
Key Stats: .873 OPS, 9 BB, .935 fielding percentage
The rookie has had quite a start to his Red Sox career.
In just 43 games, Middlebrooks has become a folk hero, driven the incumbent third baseman out of town and given fans great hope for the future.
Middlebrooks hit the ground running, homering three times in his first four games. He has successfully fought off any sort of rookie slump, as his batting average has never dipped below .289.
Where he needs to improve are in his defense (seven errors already) and his plate discipline (just nine walks in 171 at bats), but these are things that tend to come with experience more than anything else. As long as he can maintain his current pace, the Sox will be delighted with Middlebrooks’ contribution.
Key Stats: .266 BA, 41 R, .726 OPS
It’s been a disappointing season for the 2008 AL MVP, who has clearly been playing through quite a bit of pain in his right thumb.
Pedroia has posted subpar numbers in most offensive categories, particularly ones related to his power. His .400 slugging percentage is 42 points lower than his previous career low, and .726 OPS is almost 100 points worse than his next-lowest effort.
While his defense has been excellent all season (just one error), it’s hard to overlook Pedroia’s offensive shortcomings this year. Still, his effort and grit are things his teammates would do well to model their behavior after.
If his current DL stint allows the diminutive second baseman to finally get healthy, expect Pedroia to have a monster second half.
Key Stats: .180 BA, .247 SLG, 6+ G at three IF positions
The Sox brought in Punto for his versatility, and he has certainly given them that.
He has spent time at second base, third base and shortstop, logging at least six appearances at each. With Dustin Pedroia headed to the DL, Punto becomes the starter at second base for the immediate future.
The problem with this arrangement is that Punto has been atrocious at the plate. The numbers speak for themselves: a .180 batting average and .542 OPS are simply not going to get it done.
While his playing time has been so sporadic that it’s hard to imagine anyone could do much better, Punto will need to find a bit more rhythm in the second half.
Key Stats: 16 G, .231 BA, 2 errors
Finally healthy after over a year of battling various ailments, Kalish has come up to the Sox with the entire organization hoping he shows enough to be tabbed as the right fielder of the future.
While Kalish’s power has been slow to develop (two extra base hits in 52 at bats), he is still finding his timing at the plate. Even so, he has still made an impact in several games, most memorably advancing from first to third on a fielder’s choice against the Miami Marlins in a play that ultimately allowed the Sox to win the game.
He has looked uncomfortable in the outfield at times, having already made two errors and taking poor routes to several fly balls. As he gets more experience, these plays will grow increasingly fewer.
With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford on their way back, Kalish will need to step up his play if he wants to remain on the MLB roster.
Key Stats: 48 G, .401 OBP, .849 OPS
Despite his remarkable start to his career in 2010, Nava’s star began to fade in Red Sox Nation shortly thereafter. After not seeing any MLB playing time in 2011, many fans forgot he was even still with the organization.
In May of this season, though, Nava returned with force. He has been a fixture in the lineup, playing in 52 of the team’s 48 games since his recall.
He has provided incredible output at the plate as well, maintaining a .300-plus batting average until a recent slump dropped his total to .286.
In a year where the entire Sox outfield has been snake-bitten, Nava has been a stabilizing presence in left field. This contribution can’t be overlooked, as it has allowed Bobby Valentine to set a more established lineup and begin to bring some semblance of order to the Sox offense.
Key Stats: 215 PA, 27 XBH, .901 OPS
A relatively unheralded signing at $3 million for one year, Ross has given the Sox offense a huge boost this season. A masher against left-handed pitching, the affable right fielder has quickly won over Sox fans everywhere with his hard-nosed play and timely hits.
In 57 at bats versus left-handed pitching this year, Ross is hitting .316 with six home runs and a gaudy 1.140 OPS. Not only has he filled the exact role the Sox had envisioned for him, but he has exceeded expectations with his play against right-handers as well.
Ross’ .550 slugging percentage is the second best of his career and is good for second on the team. If he can continue to flash this kind of power (and stay healthy) in the second half of the season, the Sox will continue to score runs in bunches.
Key Stats: 22 HR, 45 BB, .997 OPS
The undisputed MVP of the team this year, Big Papi has driven the Sox offense with his monster first half. He is among the league leaders in most offensive categories, and continues to defy age in posting his best numbers since his transcendent 2005 and 2006 seasons.
While his comments this year have generated controversy, Ortiz has earned a little leeway with the team and fans. He has played in all but one game this year, and has been steadily producing throughout the season while avoiding any kind of a slump.
This slimmed-down, productive Ortiz is clearly motivated by his lack of a multi-year contract from the Sox, and the team is reaping the benefits.
While the merits of giving a 36-year-old power hitter a long-term commitment can be debated, what can’t be disputed is how valuable Ortiz has been this season.