Sunday, July 10, 2005

Red Sox Mid-Season Report Card

With this afternoon's loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Red Sox stagger into the All-Star break in first pace, two games in front of the Orioles, two-and-a-half games in front of the Yankees, and five-and-a-half games in front of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Trot Nixon was the lone Sox offensive highlight with his ninth homer of the year that gave the Sox a temporary 1-0 lead, but the Orioles rallied behind a sacrifice fly and homer from Rafael Palmeiro (his 15th, and his 2,998th career hit) to ruin an otherwise good pitching performance from Sox starter Tim Wakefield.

Now, on to the grades:

First Base: Kevin Millar has been terrible with the bat all season long. Four homers, thirteen doubles, a. 264 batting average and .368 slugging percentage are not what a contending team (or any team for that matter) needs in the middle of its batting order. And since Kevin has never been exceptionally nimble with the glove, his offensive shortcomings are harder to overcome. Grade: D

Second Base: Mark Bellhorn has done one thing consistently this season, and that is to strike out at a near record-breaking pace. At 102, Bellhorn is on a pace for 192 punch-outs, three shy of the record set last season by Cincinatti's Adam Dunn. Bellhorn's .221 batting average and .360 slugging percentage are well below expectations, but in reality, the guy has only had two good seasons, 2002 and 2004. Defensively, Bellhorn is fairly solid, but his knack of working the count to three-and-two only to be called out time and time again is getting to much to take. Grade: D

Third Base: Bill Mueller is a dirt dog. He has hit .285 with a .389 on-base percentage, but a low .406 slugging percentage, due to the fact that he has only hit four homers and fifteen doubles. Alarmingly, he has grounded into an AL-high fifteen double plays, partly due to the fact that the Sox almost never put runners in motion with Mueller, one of the more reliable contact hitters in baseball, at the plate. Defensively, Mueller is as solid as ever. Grade: B

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria has played the first half as if he was blindfolded. He leads AL shortstops in errors with 17, and his offense has been far from what was expected. A .272 batting average with a .327 on-base percentage has hurt the Sox at the number two spot in the batting order where Renteria has hit for most of the first half. His .387 slugging mark seems to be a function of his being too anxious to pull the ball, especially at Fenway. He does have eight stolen bases, second on the team, but most of the time the way he runs to first base on ground balls (especially when hitting into one of his thirteen double plays) makes Manny Ramirez look like Johnny Damon. Grade: C

Left Field: Manny Ramirez, despite having a .225 batting average as late as mid-May, has raised that figure to .275 to go with 22 homers and a league-leading 80 RBI. He was voted to the AL All-Star team despite his slow start, and even has ten assists from left field. Just imagine what his power numbers would be if he hadn't been slumping for the first six weeks of the season. Grade: B

Center Field: Johnny Damon has been golden. Also voted to the AL Al-Star team, Damon is currently riding a 24-game hitting streak. His .343 batting average is second in the AL. He has 23 doubles, five triples, nine steals and 65 runs scored, the latter three categories being team-leading marks. He also has 42 RBI from the leadoff spot. He has also covered the outfield well, and often with abandon as is his way. Grade: A

Right Field: Trot Nixon is another dirt dog. A .296 batting average, .377 on-base percentage and .484 slugging percentage show that Trot is focused and contributing well. He has been slowed a bit by gimpy legs, but hasn't had that many bad moments defensively. Grade: B

Catcher: Jason Varitek is another Sox player voted to start in the All-Star game. His .301-.365-.525 marks are more impressive given the way he hustles and runs the pitching staff. Grade: A

Bench: Doug Mirabelli is a terrific backup catcher who works particularly well with Tim Wakefield. He won't hit for a high average, but he does have some home run pop (four homers in 64 at-bats). Grade: A
Kevin Youkilis is in a tough position. He has nothing more to prove in the minors, but can't crack the starting lineup because of Bill Mueller. He has played a few games at first base to add to his versatility. Despite meager playing time (31 games, 63 at-bats) Youkilis has hit .286 with a .384 OBP and a .429 slugging mark. Grade: B
Jay Payton finally talked himself out of a job by complaining he wasn't playing enough. The disgruntled outfielder managed to hit .263 with five homers in 133 at-bats over 55 games. His 21 RBI and 24 runs scored showed that he was productive given his sporadic playing time, but now he is likely going to the Oakland Athletics for reliever Chad Bradford. Grade: B
Ramon Vazquez was simply awful after a hit spring training that saw the backup infielder hit over .400. Leg injuries slowed Vazquez out of the gate and quickly turned him into the 2005 version of Cesar Crespo. A power-less .197 batting average and shaky defense made it clear that he was not cutting it. Let's hope his replacement, Alex Cora can do better. Grade: F

Starting Pitchers: Matt Clement has been terrific, and is now going to the All-Star game. Clement leads the staff with ten wins and 97 strikeouts (and just 35 walks) and trails only Tim Wakefield for the team lead in innings pitched (117 to 117 2/3) in his 18 starts. Grade: A

Tim Wakefield has been on a bit of a roll lately, even in games he loses (like today's) he pitches well enough so that the bats have a chance to come alive. His 8-7 record is deceptive due to his 4.05 ERA. He is second on the staff with 71 strikeouts, and he also leads with 46 walks, but that number, given the quirks of the knuckleball, isn't too bad. Grade: B

Bronson Arroyo also has a deceptive record. His 7-5 mark could be better given his 4.02 ERA and 64 strikeouts versus only 25 walks. Arroyo tends to throw his breaking ball too much, and sometimes pays the price, but he is learning to spot the fastball better to set hitters up. Grade: B

David Wells is 6-5 with a hefty ERA of 5.00. He missed some starts early when he landed on the DL with a bad foot, whatever the hell that is. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but has turned in just as many lousy starts. Grade: C

Wade Miller seems to be suffering from first-inning-itis. He struggles to get through the sixth inning in many of his starts because of 30-35 pitch first innings. After that he generally settles down, but by then the Sox bats are in a huge hole to try to salvage games. Hence Miller's 2-3 record in twelve starts. Walks are also a problem. Miller has issued 34 free passes in just 68 innings and must cut down this ratio in the second half if he wants to stay in the rotation. Grade: D

Relief Pitchers: Keith Foulke is now on the DL after having undergone arthroscopic knee surgery. He was terrible early, decent for a time, then terrible just before being disabled. His best pitch, the changeup, was often high and hittable. That, combined with a fastball that topped out at 86 (last year he hit 90 regularly) led to blown saves, and a lack of confidence in the closer. Grade: D

Mike Timlin has good numbers on the surface (3-1 record, 28 strikeouts and a 1.69 ERA in 44 innings), but has allowed over 40 percent of his inherited runners to score. This is far from ideal setup work. Timlin will probably get the lions share of the save opportunities until either Foulke returns or Schilling steps in or whatever else Theo Epstein has planned. Grade: B

Alan Embree is Timlin's lefty counterpart and has been terrible in all but a handful of appearances this season. He does have 28 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings, but has also allowed eight homers to end the half with an unbelievable 7.82 ERA. Grade: F

Mike Myers is the slop-throwing, submarining lefty specialist. He is 3-1 in 31 appearances (but only 17 innings) with a 2.65 ERA. Grade: B

Matt Mantei was brought in to beef up the power arm section of the pen, but he has been wild, and is also now on the DL with a bad ankle. He does have 22 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings, but also has 24 walks that helped inflate his ERA to an unacceptable 6.49. Grade: F

John Halama seems to be the forgotten man. A soft-tossing lefty, Halama was penciled in to be a long reliever/spot starter. Well, he made one (1) start, and has been mainly used as a mop-up man, a job that seems to be a waste, but one in which he has not performed well, as his 1-1 record in 28 appearances with a 6.05 ERA attest. Grade: D

Curt Schilling. Grade: INCOMPLETE. Schilling bears watching over the second half to see if Terry Francona and Theo are right, or if Johnny Damon is right.

Manager: Terry Francona has a ton of talent on this team. A lot of people tend to give the manager too much credit when the team does well, and too much blame when they play poorly. During the hot streak the Sox had a few weeks ago in which they won twelve of thriteen didn't require much from the manager as the Sox bats supplied about eight runs a game. But when things get tight, Terry stands pat offensively. He hates to hit-and-run, probably because he has four of the league leaders in striking out in his lineup (Bellhorn, Ramirez, Ortiz and Varitek), but he needs to take advantage of the ability of Johnny Damon and Edgar Renteria to steal more bases, if nothing else so that opposing defenses don't stay comfortable against the station-to-station baserunning of most of this Red Sox team.

On the pitching side of things, you can't blame Terry for the crappy seasons his bullpen pitchers have had. The men simply haven't produced and it is up to Theo Epstein to help correct this situation.

Overall, Terry seems to be a "players" manager, which sounds nice, but can bit you in the ass when you continue to play clowns like Millar and Bellhorn who are absolutely killing your lineup. But, all things considered, being in first place by two games at the half is all right by me. Grade: B

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