Report Card Woes (A Sox Fan's Gentle Complaint)

FenWestCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2008

Every season has its own traditions, but most of my favorites come in autumn.   

This part of the year has it all, from hot apple cider and hayrides to pumpkin carving and chances to watch trees turn fiery.   I did all those things in Boston, and still do them now, in Berkeley.   (The leaf-watching is admittedly harder, but two or three homesick maples always do their part).  Then there’s the tradition of October itself.  It's so much more than just another month to those of us who live for baseball!  

This Wednesday, October begins again, and the wait is getting harder every minute.  But today, while grading a stack of midterm exams, I was reminded of one more autumnal tradition, which is a true classic: complaining about grades.  My students will be  starting in on this any day now.  Since Tony Massarotti has just given the Red Sox their report cards for the regular season, I don’t see why I should be left out of that fun.   So here 'goes.  

Tony, you're a dandy writer, but  your grading standards are about as clear as Boston Harbor. 

Mazz does this for us every year, and he’s pretty good at it.  After all, I look at the grades he’s given each of our guys, and I agree – roughly – on most of them.   So do a majority of the readers who have put in their two cents in the on-line polls.  My complaint here is with Massarotti’s explanations of the grades he gives.  More than that, I take issue with the explanations he doesn’t  give.

It’s a basic law of teaching that you grade all your students on the same standards.  You say what the standards are, and then you at least pretend to use them.  Skip that, and you’ll be hearing about it in office hours clear into your academic postseason.  You don’t assign grades based on a moving target that only you can see. 

Perhaps sportswriters never learn this rule.         

First up is Varitek, who gets a “C-” because his bat is slowing from the left.  Hard to argue that, right?  Tek’s hitting .220 (.201 batting lefty, .284 from the right), and his 13 home runs are respectable but don’t match his usual high-teens output.   “C-” it is.  Mazz goes on to say Tek had better get some help or else the Sox should look elsewhere for their catching in ’09.    Clearly the basis for grades – and even for new contracts as Tony would have it – is entirely offensive output, and that’s a shame for the Captain, who defensively still ranks among the top catchers in all of baseball. 

But since offense is what we’re judging here, why pray tell does Kevin Cash get a “B”?   Is his .225 BA really that much better than Varitek’s .220?  His OBP, OPS and slugging are all lower than Tek’s, and he both strikes out and grounds into double plays more frequently.    No, there’s got to be something more we’re grading here.   Expectations, perhaps?   Cash’s season was the best of his career, and Varitek’s was easily his worst.  But that’s not what Mazz says about them.  He writes that while catching Wakefield, Cash has excelled at throwing out base stealers.    And Cash has, comparatively.  If he had the innings to qualify, he’d be ranked in the middle of the pack with 29% this year, (27% while catching Wake), compared to 22% last year from Mirabelli in the same job.   So grades are based on CS% now?  Got it.  Good for Kevin Cash.  He also has more passed balls and errors per inning than Mirabelli had, but we aren’t grading that at the moment. 

When we get to Drew, it’s all about offense again.  Drew get’s a “C+” because he was Superman in the batter's box only when Papi was out in June, having been ordinary “good” the rest of the season.  Perhaps there’s an unspecified deduction for bad backs?  Ellsbury, too, is apparently scored on his offensive contributions, and gets a “B.”   Nothing wrong with a “B,” but it’s a shame for the rookie that his astounding 1174 errorless innings (149 games) in the outfield don’t seem to weigh in here.

And yet, errorless innings do count for Lowrie.  Lowrie’s offense is mentioned -- hitting just .225 from the left side, we're told, with a surfeit of K’s -- but he earns the “B-” because, “if you go 49 games without an error at shortstop, you’re playing some darned good defense.”  

Sean Casey gets a “B-” because, although he hit .322, his hits were mostly mere singles.  Appalling, I’m sure.  

Ortiz gets a “C” because he struggled early in the season and then hurt his wrist.  That he rebounded enough to end the regular season with a .264 average, 23 homers, 30 doubles, and 89 RBI, apparently doesn’t offset any of that.  For comparison, Mike Lowell gets a “B” for his .274 BA, 17 home runs, 27 doubles, and 73 RBI because he did that in spite of an injury.   Here I can only assume that hip injuries get bonus points, while wrist injuries don’t.   Sorry, Big Papi.

No one can argue with the “A+” for Youk and Pedroia, or with Massarotti’s explanations for both (which are in essence that these guys are great at pretty much everything).  The same goes for Lester’s “A,” and there are certainly others that Tony has nailed.  But overall, as I read through this latest Red Sox Report Card I can only come to this conclusion: Kevin Cash has been baking Mazz cookies, Casey and Ellsbury stepped on one toe each, and Tek, Drew and Ortiz have been handing out his number to telemarketers.  

It's a hard job passing out grades.  But Mazz, please, next time decide first what it is you're grading!