First-Quarter Grades for Boston Red Sox

Ben CarsleyContributor IMay 14, 2014

First-Quarter Grades for Boston Red Sox

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    It's been an inconsistent start to the season for the Boston Red Sox. Pegged as one of the better teams in baseball when the season began, the defending World Series champs have battled the .500 mark all season long. While they've been playing better of late, the Red Sox have yet to distinguish themselves from the pack in any way and sit at .500 once more thanks to Tuesday night's loss to the Twins

    Injuries and underperformance have certainly contributed to Boston's slow start, as has a slow acclimation to the major leagues from some of the organization's best prospects. That being said, dominance from many of Boston's stars, an elite bullpen and a few pleasant surprises have kept the Red Sox afloat.

    With one-fourth of the season in the books, let's take a look at each member of the Red Sox and grade their contributions to this point. 

    All player statistics are as of May 12.

Catchers

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    A.J. Pierzynski – B

    Pierzynski may be the least popular regular player among most Red Sox fans, but according to FanGraphs, he's been Boston's third-most valuable position player this season. With a .277/.318/.396 line through 30 games and 111 PA, Pierzynski has proven to be a productive offensive player, albeit in a different way than the patience-preaching Sox are used to seeing.

    Pierzynski has defensive inadequacies, but he's provided Boston with a credible left-handed bat for the latter third of the lineup. He should continue to see the bulk of playing time behind the plate all season.

     

    David Ross – D

    It's been a rough start to the season for Ross, who's hit just .164/.244/.378 through his first 12 games and 41 PA. The power is nice to see, but Ross is striking out in 36.6% of his PA and his defense hasn't passed the eye test this year either.

    Thanks in large part to his familiarity with the pitching staff, Ross isn't in danger of losing his job. That being said, the Red Sox do have an appealing alternative waiting in the wings in Christian Vazquez. If Ross is still performing this poorly at the halfway point, Boston could look to make a move.

     

    Group Grade – C

    Boston's catchers have collectively produced 0.6 fWAR according to FanGraphs, good for 18th across the majors.

Starting Infielders/DH

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Mike Napoli, 1B – A

    It’s not hard to make the argument that Napoli has served as Boston's MVP to this point in the season. According to FanGraphs, he's second amongst hitters on the team in fWAR with 1.0, and his .274/.408/.460 line indicates that he's still hitting for power and reaching base at above-average levels. Add in his solid defense at first, and he's been a boon for the Sox in 2014.

    While the sample size is too small to make any sweeping conclusions, Napoli has cut his strikeout rate by more than 7 percent this year, down to an even 25.0%. He appears more willing to use the entire field, and that's led to him driving in 21 runs thus far. If his new approach is here to stay, he could be in for a monster season.

     

    Dustin Pedroia, 2B – A

    While some may prefer the offensive output of Napoli, it's Pedroia who ranks first among Red Sox hitters with 1.2 fWAR. He's boasting a .289/.361/.421 line with two homers and 14 (yes, 14) doubles, and he's been especially potent after recovering from an early season wrist injury.

    Pedroia's been doing what he does best since the injury, using the entire field to shoot balls into the gaps when at the plate and making head-turning plays in the field. He needs to improve his base running—he's just two-for-six on the season in steals—but otherwise, it's business as usual for the Red Sox's sparkplug.

     

    Xander Bogaerts, SS – C+

    On the one hand, it's hard to criticize a 21-year-old rookie with a .361 on-base percentage fighting through his first 144 PA of the year. On the other hand, Bogaerts has failed to live up to expectations, showing none of his trademark power and struggling in the field on occasion, too. Bogaerts has just one homer, is striking out in one-fourth of his PA and looks far too passive at the plate.

    The great thing about Bogaerts—and part of what made him such a big-name prospect—is his ability to adjust quickly. It's clear that the young Aruban has already made strides in the field, and odds are as the weather warms up, his power at the plate will return soon. The Red Sox will need it to, as his struggles have created a bit of a hole in the No. 5/6 spots of their lineup.

     

    Will Middlebrooks, 3B – C

    Middlebrooks has played in just 17 games thus far thanks to a hamstring injury that saw him make a brief DL stint. The .211/.338/.368 line "WMB" has produced in 68 PA has been none to inspiring, though, and while his elevated walk rate is nice to see, his lack of power is not.

    This is far too small a sample size from which to derive meaningful patterns, and Red Sox fans know that Middlebrooks can get hot just as quickly as he can turn ice cold. Add in Middlebrooks' solid defense this season, and we'll give him a generous "C" for now. But if he keeps this pace up, he'll be in "F" territory next time I issue grades.

     

    David Ortiz, DH - A

    2014 represents another season of dominance for Big Papi, who boasts a .267/.370/.481 line with seven homers and 19 RBI through his first 154 PA this year. While his triple-slash line is down somewhat from his 2013 campaign there's nothing in Ortiz's strikeout or walk rates to suggest he's in decline. That's pretty amazing when you consider that he's 38 years old.

    With some better luck on balls in play, expect Ortiz to near his 2013 totals if he stays healthy. His march toward an interesting Hall of Fame debate continues.

     

    Group Grade – B

    Bogaerts' slow start and Middlebrooks' injury have slowed this group somewhat, but Napoli and Pedroia are firing on all cylinders and Ortiz is a big part of the solution, too. This should be a well above-average group by season's end.

Starting Outfielders

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Shane Victorino, RF – B-

    The good news: Victorino has hit .273/.323/.364 this season, playing excellent defense and adding an element of speed to a team that needs it badly. The bad news: Victorino has played in just 13 games and accrued 63 PA, as he missed most of April with a leg injury suffered on the last day of spring training.

    Victorino has been especially hot as of late and appears to be rounding into form, but it's hard to grade him too generously given the modest production so far. Plus, staying healthy is a skill, and it's one Victorino appears to lack. Boston needs Victorino on the field, so here's to hoping he stays healthy for the rest of the year.

     

    Jackie Bradley Jr., CF – C

    Rarely does a young major leaguer's performance match his MiLB scouting reports to the extent that Bradley's has this season. The 24-year-old is playing phenomenal defense, walking often and has been a positive presence on the base paths. He's also hitting just .218, slugging just .327 and is not making hard contact all that often.

    While Bradley doesn't project as a tremendous hitter, rest assured that he should indeed get better at the plate. He has the hand-eye coordination and bat speed to hit at least .270 in the big leagues, and 10-12-homer pop should come with time, too. For now, the Sox are content to let him play Gold Glove-caliber defense in center, but a stronger offensive contribution moving forward would be appreciated.

     

    Jonny Gomes, LF – C-

    Gomes is hitting .225/.319/.400 in 94 PA this year, muscling out three homers and driving in 15 RBI with semi-regular playing time. He's an adventure in the outfield away from Fenway and he's just 8-for-41 against right-handed pitching this year. Yet John Farrell and the front office clearly value the intangibles he brings to the clubhouse, whatever they may be.

    Truth be told, the Red Sox could stand to upgrade this half of their left-field platoon at the deadline, as Gomes provides nothing special other than cool tattoos and aggressive facial hair. But assuming he stays in Boston, the Red Sox could at least move him down from his customary spot in the five-hole when he does play.

     

    Grady Sizemore, LF – D

    No one knew what to expect from Sizemore coming into the season, and that hasn't really changed midway through the month of May. After starting out the season quite hot, Sizemore has cooled down and now has a .221/.296/.361 line through 108 PA. He's largely settled into a traditional left-field platoon with Gomes.

    Sizemore is clearly unequipped to play center field anymore, which makes his hold on a roster spot somewhat tenuous at this point. He's shown flashes of his former tools with two homers and steals each, but he'll need to hit better to survive the year on the roster. Still, he should receive at least another 100-150 PA to prove himself.

     

    Group Grade – C-

    The Red Sox are just 26th in the majors in outfield fWAR, per FanGraphs, but I'll give them a little leeway here since Victorino was injured and Bradley is still acclimating to the major leagues. If nothing else, this is a very good defensive unit when Sizemore is in left field.

Bench

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Mike Carp, 1B/OF – C

    Carp hasn't had much of an opportunity this year and has hit .250/.325/.333 in his 40 PA. We've yet to see much power from his left-handed bat, and given that power is pretty much his entire reason for taking up a roster spot, he doesn't have a ton of job security right now.

     

    Jonathan Herrera, INF – D

    Herrera is a career .264/.324/.327 hitter, so the .184/.279/.184 line he's producing thus far is disappointing. Herrera is also 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts, making solid defense and versatility his lone selling points.

     

    Daniel Nava, OF/1B – F

    Nava experienced one of the most precipitous falls from grace in recent Red Sox history, as the switch-hitter was demoted to Triple-A near the end of April. He's rebounded with a .264/355/.396 line in the minors, and he could beat out Carp or Sizemore for a roster spot by midseason.

     

    Brock Holt/Ryan Roberts, 3B – C

    Holt hit well in 28 PA. Roberts hit poorly in 22 PA. Add it all together, and you get reasonable if uninspiring production from your reserve third basemen. Holt could see time with the major league team again this year.

     

    Group Grade - D

    The bench looked deep to begin the year and was supposed to be a quiet strength, but it's proven to be a weakness instead. Carp and Herrera are both candidates to lose their jobs moving forward, especially with the organization's talent in the upper minors.

Starting Rotation

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Jon Lester, LHP – A

    Red Sox fans may continue to debate whether Lester is truly an ace, but there's no question that he's pitched as one through the first quarter of 2014. Lester's first eight starts have seen him throw 55.2 innings with a 2.75 ERA, and his strikeout and walk rates are both career bests right now. Quite frankly, he's been dominant.

    Lester has been prone to long stretches of dominance followed by periods of ineffectiveness before, so he has a ways to go to prove that his current performance is sustainable. But he's been the Red Sox's best player so far this season, and he's anchored a staff that's talented but inconsistent.

     

    John Lackey, RHP – B+

    Lackey has done quite well serving as the Robin to Lester's Batman this year, posting a 3.57 ERA with very strong strikeout and walk rates through eight starts and 53 innings pitched. While Lackey allowed six earned runs in back-to-back starts against the Yankees and Orioles in mid-April, he's allowed two or fewer runs in each of his other six appearances.

    It would be nice to see Lackey keep the ball on the ground a bit more to help lower his home run tendencies, but overall, it's simply encouraging to see that his 2013 resurgence was not a mirage. His importance to this Red Sox team is often understated.

     

    Jake Peavy, RHP – B

    Peavy is walking a tightrope act this season, as his elevated walk rate and standard propensity for giving up the long ball are going to come back to haunt him. Through Peavy's first seven starts he's managed to produce a 3.09 ERA, and while all but two of his outings have been quality starts, the other shoe may drop soon.

    The Red Sox need Peavy to soak up innings in the middle of their rotation, as the bullpen is often taxed on the days that the two men following Peavy pitch. He's a veteran who's never had this much trouble with walks before, so odds are he will right the ship soon.

     

    Felix Doubront, LHP – D

    Over Doubront's last two starts, he's allowed just four earned runs in 11.1 innings pitched. It's a modest achievement, yet it marks the highlight of Doubront's season thus far, as the lefty is 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA through his first seven starts as a whole.

    Red Sox fans should hope history repeats itself, as Doubront performed quite poorly in the early weeks of 2013 before going on tear in the middle of the season. But if the Venezuelan lefty can't improve over his next four or five starts, he's in real jeopardy of losing his starting spot.

     

    Clay Buchholz, RHP – F

    As he's been for much of his career, Buchholz continues to be an enigma. The right-hander may possess the most pure talent of anyone on Boston's pitching staff, yet he's been its worst performer to this point, posting a 6.44 ERA through seven starts.

    The biggest issue with Buchholz is that you never know which pitcher you're going to get from one outing to the next—or, really, from one inning to the next. He's capable of brilliance at times, and he's also capable of exiting in the third inning. If Buchholz can regain his dominating form of a year ago, the Red Sox will have one of the most dangerous rotations in the game. If he doesn't, Boston's starting depth looks a little thin.

     

    Group Grade – B-

    Lackey and Lester have been phenomenal, Peavy has been decent and Doubront and Buchholz have been disasters. The Red Sox rank just 20th in the league in starter's ERA at 4.14, and that will need to improve if Boston hopes to see the postseason.

Middle Relievers

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Chris Capuano, LHP – B

    Capuano looked nearly unhittable to start the year but has faltered a bit in a few of his more recent outings. Still, the left-hander boasts a 2.55 ERA and 8.66 K/9 in 17.2 innings of work, and appears to have won Farrell's trust to some extent. Look for him to notch more multi-inning appearances moving forward.

     

    Burke Badenhop, RHP – B-

    Badenhop has done exactly what he was brought in to do: generate ground balls. The right-hander is posting a groundball percentage of 66.2 through 21 IP, leading to a 3.00 ERA despite a paltry 4.71 K/9 rate. Don't expect him to get a ton of high-leverage work, but do expect him to come into the game when a double play is badly needed.

     

    Craig Breslow, LHP – C

    After missing the first few games of the year, Breslow has been used infrequently to this point, making just nine appearances and throwing 10 innings. He'll need to dramatically cut his walk rate if he wants to return to his past performance, but there's no reason to think he can't accomplish that goal.

     

    Brandon Workman, RHP – B

    Workman threw only 6.1 innings in the majors, but allowed just one earned run and struck out seven batters. He now sits in the minors where he's getting stretched out as a starter once more, and he figures to be next in line for starts in Boston.

     

    Group Grade – B

    Middle relief is a weak spot for many clubs, but it's been a strength for Boston thanks to their exceptionally deep bullpen. Carrying three lefties is a luxury few ball clubs can afford, and Badenhop's unique skill set has added another layer of versatility to this part of the team.

Late-Inning Relievers

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Koji Uehara, RHP – A

    Uehara continues to put up video game numbers, following his dominant 2013 season with more of the same in 2014. This year, the right-hander boasts a 1.15 ERA and 13.72 K/9 through 15.2 IP, and is a perfect 9-for-9 in save situations. He's looked a bit more mortal than last year, leaving more pitches up in the zone, but it's hard to argue with these results.

     

    Andrew Miller, LHP – A

    Miller entered the year as somewhat of a question mark after suffering through a season-ending foot injury last year, but he's been outright dominant in 2014. The lanky lefty is striking out batters at a rate of 12.94 K/9, and he's allowed just three earned runs in 16 innings. He's slowly gaining status as Boston's primary set-up man.

     

    Junichi Tazawa, RHP – B

    It's been a quiet, uneventful start to the season for Tazawa, who has a 3.00 ERA and modest 7.80 K/9 through his first 15 innings. There's nothing to worry about here, as Tazawa's trademark control is on display and we're working with very small samples. He continues to be a reliable right-handed late-innings option.

     

    Edward Mujica, RHP – F

    Mujica is the only member of the Red Sox bullpen who's been truly awful thus far, and he looks nothing like the former Marlin and Cardinal who dominated with his command and control. Mujica has already allowed 10 earned runs and four walks in 11 innings, and has been banished to mop-up duty for now. He's an important depth piece for the Red Sox and needs to right the ship in short order.

     

    Group Grade – A-

    The three-headed monster that is Uehara, Miller and Tazawa suffers only a slight blemish at the hands of Mujica. This is one of the best bullpen back-ends in baseball, and it should continue to be so long as health is on Boston's side. This group is a ton of fun to watch.

Final Grade

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    CRAIG LASSIG/Associated Press

    Following Tuesday night's walk-off loss to the Minnesota Twins, the Red Sox sit at .500 yet again with a 19-19 record. They've yet to be two games above the .500 mark at any point this season, and their inconsistent play has been maddening to watch at many times.

    But while it's easy to cry that the sky is falling, Boston still finds itself just 1.5 games out of first place thanks to an uber-competitive AL East division. And there's plenty of reason to think this team will improve in the coming weeks.

    Boston is getting star performance from its stars, with Pedroia, Napoli, Ortiz, Lester, Lackey and Uehara all dominating on the young season. Yet disappointing starts from Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, many of the outfielders, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront are anchoring the team and stopping momentum in its tracks.

    The Red Sox have created somewhat of an uphill battle for themselves through the first six weeks of 2014, but reaching the playoffs is still a very attainable goal. While it's tempting to be greedy and demand dominance, that's really all you can ask for.

    Final Grade – C+