Boston Red Sox's Biggest Winners and Losers for the Month of April
There have been a number of notable stories that have transpired in the Red Sox's campaign to defend last season's World Series title. The full-season debut of young phenom Xander Bogaerts has caught the attention of Red Sox fans.
Grady Sizemore, who missed all of 2012 and 2013 due to injury, has returned to action—this time with Boston.
In an ideal world, all the stories would be good. Each player would be putting up numbers and headlines with which fans would be happy. Yet the sub-.500 record is a clear indication that there are a few not-so-great performances that have transpired thus far into 2014.
In this slideshow, we will take a look at three winners and three losers from the Boston Red Sox for the month of April.
Even though it is still early, one month can usually give us a fairly clear indication of what may happen over the rest of the season. Some players have risen to the occasion, while others are falling by the wayside.
To determine what sets each player apart, we must first understand the criteria. If a player was expected to offer substantial contributions to the lineup or rotation but has fallen way short, he would obviously be a candidate for a loser.
The same would be said of a player who lost a starting job, and so on.
On the other hand, standout players who have emerged in April are warranted to be included as the biggest winners.
Let's take a look.
Loser: Daniel Nava
Daniel Nava, Outfield
Before the start of the 2014 season, there was once again the question of which Red Sox player would see the most time in left field, as further described by Dan Shaughnessy and Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe in the above video.
A platoon situation worked for Boston in 2013. Daniel Nava got most of his at-bats against right-handed pitching with fellow left fielder Jonny Gomes being featured primarily against lefties.
Mike Carp would also get his shots.
Heading into the regular season, manager John Farrell seemed content to roll with this platoon once more, just like he did last season.
The only problem is that Nava has not lived up to the challenge like he did a season ago.
Thus far in 2014, Nava is hitting a mere .149 over 67 at-bats; his OPS of .509 is also not particularly inspiring.
As a result, Nava was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to make room for reliever Alex Wilson, as reported by Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.
Manager John Farrell described the decision via Edes:
[Nava's] struggles at the plate, I think, are evident. We're trying to get him back to being the player of confidence we've seen in the past. As you might expect, he was disappointed. Can't say it was disbelief, but there was a disappointing message to deliver, given his role last year and the contributions. But in combination with our need for another reliever, while not liking it or deep down agreeing with it, he accepted it.
Nava was supposed to compete for a bona fide No. 1 job in left field this season. For a player who has surpassed a number of obstacles to have the role he enjoyed last season, the latest demotion is as big a setback the 31-year-old could have endured to start 2014.
While Nava will eventually return to the majors, the fact that his struggles have resulted in this demotion speak volumes.
When he does return, he will once again have to prove to Farrell that he belongs in the lineup—no easy task considering Boston's crowded outfield.
April may very well be a lost month for Nava, but one hopefully from which he is able to bounce back.
Winner: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Outfield
Rookie outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has had a tumultuous 2014 so far.
And he's made the best of it.
Entering spring training, one could question whether or not Bradley was up for the task of being Boston's everyday center fielder in 2014. His .189 batting average in a limited 2013 campaign suggested that.
Combine that with the Red Sox's addition of veteran outfielder Grady Sizemore during the offseason, and Bradley's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster were limited at best.
A slow start to his spring training campaign resulted in Bradley being demoted to Triple-A, per Shaughnessy.
Yet Major League Baseball, being unpredictable as it is, opened up another opportunity for Bradley shortly thereafter.
Veteran outfielder Shane Victorino opened up the 2014 season on the disabled list, giving Bradley a chance after the Red Sox immediately recalled him.
At the outset, Sizemore was getting the majority of starts in center. Sizemore's hot start to the season was far too good for Farrell to overlook. Bradley had his chances, but Sizemore remained the favorite for the first half of April.
Yet as of April 29, Sizemore's lofty start has seen his batting average plummet to .208 over 72 at-bats.
On the other hand, Bradley's numbers continue to rise—a .244 average over 78 at-bats.
Take a look at that last statistic—at-bats. That should give you the indication you need right now to determine in which player Farrell has more confidence at this point.
Bradley has seen more action in more games at this point in the season, which makes sense. As a highly regarded prospect coming up from Boston's own organizational depth chart, Bradley is an investment in the team's future. It is hard to fathom the Red Sox seeing Sizemore as a long-term solution in center.
Bradley elaborated on how he is gaining confidence every day with how Boston is handling him, via Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald:
I'm definitely gaining more confidence as each day goes on. I'm getting comfortable and I'm learning pitchers and I'm working. I'm just trying to get better. In certain situations, they could've brought in certain (pinch) hitters, and for them to have confidence in me to at least attempt to get the job done, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing they have confidence in me. When you're playing every day, it feels good to be able to take your lumps and still get back in there to redeem yourself. That’s what I’m proud of, what I’ve been able to do so far.
While there will surely be low points for Bradley in the near future, Farrell's reliance upon him over Sizemore is a clear win at this point.
All Bradley needs to do is continue seizing the opportunity.
Loser: Clay Buchholz
On the positive side of things, right-handed starter Clay Buchholz has stayed healthy for all of 2014 thus far.
On the negative side, his 6.66 ERA and 1.753 WHIP sure leave a lot to be desired.
Buchholz has allowed 19 earned runs over 25.2 innings pitched so far—numbers that stand in stark contrast to a pitcher who arguably has the best pure stuff in the Red Sox's rotation.
The question up to this point has been, and will continue to be, about his durability. Over the course of his seven-plus years in the majors, Buchholz has started 20 or more games only twice.
Whether or not Buchholz enjoys a healthy 2014 season remains to be seen. The fact that his ERA is the highest among Red Sox starters in the rotation is more of the concern.
We bring all this up because Buchholz made his 2014 season debut [on April 5] last night, and it did not go well. The Milwaukee Brewers teed off on Buchholz for 13 hits and six runs in 41⁄3 innings before prevailing 7-6 in 11 innings. Regardless of the final score, the story of this one was the right-hander who has the power to spell the difference between defending a title and scrambling simply to make the playoffs.
Tomase's conclusion is simple: Buchholz needs to be better for the Red Sox if the veteran righty has any hopes of being a legitimate part of Boston's playoff prospects.
While Buchholz did have two promising outings following his disastrous first start of the season, another start on April 21 yielded six earned runs to the Baltimore Orioles—a game where Buchholz lasted a mere 2.1 innings.
While this is a good sign that Buchholz is perhaps righting his early season woes, the body of work for the month of April is pretty atrocious.
Boasting such a high ERA on a staff that prides itself on good starting pitching is not the way to go.
Still, Buchholz is not the worst loser on the Red Sox's pitching staff.
Winner: Chris Capuano
Chris Capuano, Starting Pitcher
The offseason addition of veteran lefty Chris Capuano may be one of the smartest decisions that general manager Ben Cherington made before the 2014 season.
Now serving as a member of Boston's venerable bullpen, Capuano gives manager John Farrell the flexibility of having a solid reliever who is capable of filling in with the rotation if needed.
While Capuano has yet to start a game for the Red Sox in 2014, his 2014 numbers have been inspiring enough.
Over 14.1 innings pitched, Capuano has yet to allow a single run—earned or unearned. His WHIP stands at 0.698, which is the lowest among all Red Sox pitchers.
The numbers alone indicate that this signing was the right one to make.
Capuano described the transition from starter to reliever, along with the results, via Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe:
I think my stuff is a little better in relief. I’ve picked up a few miles per hour, for sure. There’s something about pitching in shorter stints that helps you. I knew this was kind of the role I’d be in and I like how they run the bullpen here. It doesn’t matter who gets the job done. It’s anybody, any day. Sometimes when you’re that sixth starter you can sit there for 12 days and not pitch.
With Capuano's statistics a clear indication of his early success in 2014, Farrell has to be pleased with the results.
"I look at how good Chris has become in the bullpen,” Farrell said, via Abraham. “He’s done everything we could possibly ask.”
Moving forward, the Red Sox will likely continue to use Capuano in this similar role until he's needed elsewhere. If other members of Boston's rotation continue to struggle or fall to injury, Capuano will probably be the first person on Farrell's mind to fill the void.
Capuano will eventually allow a run this season, but going this far without having done so makes him a clear-cut winner in the month of April.
Loser: Felix Doubront
Felix Doubront, Starting Pitcher
At 26 years old, left-handed starter Felix Doubront may be running out of chances in terms of his future with the Boston Red Sox.
The 2014 season may very well be a make-or-break year for Doubront, as argued by Conor Duffy of BosoxInjection.com.
Duffy argues that given the Red Sox's plethora of young arms in their farm system, the team can afford to be impatient with Doubront moving forward.
At this point, it is up to Doubront to showcase his value to the team. Yes, there is talk that Doubront is capable of being a solid mid-rotation starter—as argued by Alex Speier of WEEI.com—but the inconsistencies paired with his early struggles in 2014 suggest otherwise.
After five starts, Doubront owns a 1-3 record with a 6.00 ERA and 1.708 WHIP.
These numbers stand in contrast to the numbers he put up at the start of the previous two seasons—elements also described by Duffy.
So what does all of this mean?
As stated before, the Red Sox can afford to be impatient with Doubront. This is further argued by Rant Sports' Carter Roane.
Unlike Clay Buchholz—whose struggles have already been illustrated on this slideshow—Doubront is probably on a much shorter leash when it comes to Boston's pitching future.
In his immediate stead, manager John Farrell could easily tab Chris Capuano to start in Doubront's place without upsetting the lefty-righty rotation matchups.
For the long term, Boston's deep prospect pool may likely spell the end of Doubront's tenure with the Red Sox.
For Doubront, this is not the position he would hope to be in, especially after such a lackluster April. Boston will not likely turn its back on him just yet, but the struggles he has endured so far certainly beg the question of whether or not it will at some point soon.
Winner: John Lackey
John Lackey, Starting Pitcher
In the wake of his 2013 redemption season, veteran starter John Lackey probably had a few doubters after his remarkable postseason last year.
This author, for one, was one of those who wondered whether or not Lackey could back up the numbers he posted a season ago. At 35 years old, one is left to wonder how much he has left in the tank.
Suggesting Lackey may be due for a dropoff in production may have been fair. But Lackey has proven all doubts wrong up to this point.
Owning a 3.83 ERA thus far into the season, along with a 1.225 WHIP, Lackey (4-2) is one of only two Red Sox starters to own a winning record as of April 29—the other being Jake Peavy (1-0).
With the back end of Boston's rotation struggling and No. 1 starter Jon Lester being a hard-luck loser (2-4), one has to ask the question: Is Lackey emerging as the ace of the Red Sox's rotation?
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe points out some attributes behind Lackey's success and what they have meant to the team. He writes:
Lackey’s stellar performance in Tuesday night’s 7-4 win over Tampa Bay was significant in that over the first month of the season, Boston’s rotation has been helter-skelter. Red Sox starters ranked 22nd in the majors with an 8-11 record and a 4.33 ERA, and 25th in WHIP (1.44). Lackey has had an unbalanced season. The righthander’s had a couple of good starts, a couple of stinkers, and now back-to-back terrific outings. The Red Sox are 4-2 in his starts, the team’s best record for any starter.
Maureen Mullen of Boston.com is even more suggestive of the "ace" moniker:
Lackey, the new ace of the Red Sox staff? That title might not roll easily off the tongue or through the mind, given his checkered history with the team. And it might be a bit premature to bestow the title on him or to take it away from the team’s de facto ace Lester (despite the left-hander’s 2-4 record). But give it a try. It’s worthy of consideration.
Let us take Mullen's assessment and consider Lackey the ace of the staff for the moment. What Lackey brings to the Red Sox is consistency among their pitching staff. Given the importance of starting pitching in the vaunted American League East, there is no understating what Lackey does here.
As pointed out by Cafardo, the Red Sox typically win when Lackey is on the mound.
This has not been the case with Lester, although it is hard to place blame on him given Boston's scoring ineptitude for the majority of his starts.
Still, Lackey has shown tremendous value over one month of baseball this season. He has anchored a rotation that has been inconsistent at best and has picked up right where he left off last season.
If that does not define a top-tier winner, this author doesn't know what does.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.