With a quarter of the Red Sox' season in the books (give or take a game,) I figured it would be as good a time as any for the first report card of 2010.
And what a season it has already been. The Chase to .500 has already cemented a spot in Boston sports lore. Every time I walk by an open field (which is often, actually) I see fathers and sons playing catch and hear them talking about the April of Atchison. This has been 2004 all over again, only without all the baggage that comes with things like success and AL East relevance.
Couple of things before we get started:
Grades are heavily based on expectations heading into the season. If Kevin Youkilis had the same stats as Darnell McDonald he'd be looking at a D+, for example.
And all stats are through 5/18 ...
Jason Varitek (A)
I get that he hasn't had the at-bats to qualify for any of this stuff, but Varitek does have a better OPS and slugging percentage than the leaders in the American League.
Look, he'll probably end the season somewhere in the .250/.340/.410 range. A monster slump is just out there waiting. But hasn't Varitek done enough already to justify his return this season? And who knows, if the Sox continue to play him in a part-time role maybe he avoids that 2-for-32 in July and ends the year with really good numbers. But they have to stick to the plan, and I wonder how committed they are to it.
If Ortiz, for example, hadn't started hitting a few weeks ago I have a sneaking feeling that we would have seen a lot of Victor Martinez at DH and Varitek catching.
Kevin Youkilis (A)
Paul had said the scouts ought to go have a look at a college kid named Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis was a fat third baseman who couldn't run, throw or field. What was the point in going to see that? (Because, Paul would be able to say three months later, Kevin Youkilis has the second highest on-base percentage in all of professional baseball, after Barry Bonds. To Paul, he'd become Euclis: the Greek god of walks.)
And Kevin Youkilis was the player the Oakland A's were going to receive as compensation for Billy Beane when the GM was heading to Boston.
I'll buy that there might be three better hitters than Youkilis in baseball today, but there aren't five. And I know that he'll never hit 45 homers or drive in 150 runs. Guys that need to see those kind of numbers to hand out the greatness badge will never "get" Youkilis. But when you hear an announcer (particularly one that rhymes with "Poe Forgan") say that Red Sox don't have a hitter to fear in the lineup, know that you are listening to a moron. Youkilis is on pace to hit .319 with 29 homers, 91 RBI, 137 runs and 132 walks. Stick that season in the middle of Ted Williams' career and it would fit perfectly. Pretty sure that Teddy Ballgame would pass the "fear test."
Dustin Pedroia (A-)
I don't think he'll keep up this power pace and finish the season with 30 homers and 100 RBI, but I bet he winds up somewhere in the 22-90 neighborhood, which would set career bests. And he's also on pace for 191 hits, which would get him to around 800 for his career at the end of the season. I still think he's a nice under the radar shot for 3,000 hits. He's still only 26 years old and there is no evidence to suggest that he won't A) stay healthy B) stop hitting or C) wake up one day in 2017 and suddenly realize that he's sick of flying to Kansas City and eating in hotels. I mean, any of those things could happen, but for now we're looking at a guy just about to enter what should be his prime already with a proven ability to post 200-hit seasons. For the under-30 crowd I think Pedroia is the best bet for 3,000.
Daniel Bard (B+)
OK, the walks (eight in 21 innings) scare you a little, but we now know that Bard is the real deal. Pitchers can come up and go crazy for a couple of months and lose it the next year, epically young guys coming out of the bullpen. That's not going to be Bard's fate. He's a K machine (11 per nine innings this year) but not just a thrower -- the changeup has been a nice addition. Seems only a matter of when, not if, for Day One of the Bard as closer era. My best guess would be Opening Day of 2011.
Darnell McDonald (B+)
I know that he's fallen back to where he was supposed to be (though he's been pretty good the last week or so) and we all now know why he had only 147 career at-bats at age 31, but I'm bumping McDonald up a little based on impact. He won a few games for the Red Sox this season. How many guys in the lineup can make that claim? Plus I'm a sucker for a nice story. If Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury had sprained a thumb and missed two days instead of a month and a half you would have never seen McDonald's warts. He'd be a folk hero, with websites named after him and the subject of endless phone calls to WEEI, with Tony from Arlington pleading for Tito to play the McDonald kid and sit whoever went 0-for-4 the night before.
J.D. Drew (B)
Why do I give Drew a much better grade than Ortiz when the "One lousy month, one great month" argument apply to both?
Well, Drew is hitting nearly 40 points higher (.287 to .248,) has 14 more runs scored, has nine more walks, eight more RBI and his OBP is 55 points better (.371 to .316,) a huge difference. So to me it isn't even a debate. Drew has been a much better hitter than David Ortiz to this point in 2010.
(You know how the newspapers have, on file, everything but the age written for the obituary of older celebrities and politicians? There's a reason why a 5,000-word obit of Walter Cronkite comes out 30 minutes after his death is announced. I wonder if a similar thing is going on with the beat writers of the Sox when Drew leaves the game with an injury, as he did on Tuesday. Do they have everything already written except for the actual injury itself?)
Jon Lester (B)
The ace of the staff, and I'm not sure that's going to change for the next five years.
Maybe one day Lester will learn how to pitch during month four of the calendar year, but Sox fans will take three or four stinkers if it means he'll pitch like a serious Cy Young candidate for the rest of the season. Lester's worst start in the last month-- seven innings, four runs, four hits, 10 Ks -- would be nice to see from either of the other two members of the Big Three at this point, wouldn't it?
Clay Buchholz (B-)
Buchholz in April: 2.19 ERA, 22-9 K/BB rate in 24.2 innings, a WHIP of 1.297
Buchholz in May: 5.29 ERA, 6-13 K/BB rate in 17.0 innings, a WHIP of 1.941
I thought that Buchholz over Tim Wakefield for the rotation spot was the right move at the time and still feel that way. At some point we have to find out what we've got with Buchholz. But if there is another six weeks of Buchholz throwing 115 pitches in five innings then I suspect we might be reading about how excited Francona is to have another power arm in the bullpen.
Jonathan Papelbon (B-)
Here's what I wrote about Papelbon (and Bard, sort of) last August ...
This’ll seem dopey, but I wonder if Theo and the crew hope that Bard becomes a good closer. Maybe even very good, but not at the level of Papelbon. I think when Papelbon does go it will be fair to write that his days were numbered after his otherworldly 2006 season (only the second time in history a pitcher had an ERA under 1.00 with more than 30 saves, an ERA+ of 515). What that season did was move Papelbon to a level that demanded an eventual contract that the Red Sox will never pay a closer.
If the Red Sox had signed some stopgap guy to a one-year deal to be the Red Sox closer in 2010 and he had put up the same numbers that Papelbon has to this point I think everyone would be pretty happy. But with Papelbon there is history. People don't want to look at him and see merely a top 10 closer. They want to see the 2006-08 Papelbon, the guy that was ready to take over the crown from Mariano Rivera.
(By the way, I still maintain that the descent of Papelbon from "Historically good" to "Somewhere in the top 10 at his position today" is somewhere around problem No. 322 with this team. Is it troubling? Sure. Something to keep an eye on. But if everyone on the 2010 Red Sox ranked as highly as Papelbon at his job the team wouldn't be stuck doing the lambada with the .500 mark.)
Adrian Beltre (C+)
Too low, you think? He is hitting .303, but with just two homers in 145 at-bats. We've seen him enough now, can you believe that this guy once hit 48 home runs in a season? How is that possible? (I know, I know. I don't have my head in the sand. But still.)
But Theo brought in Beltre with the promise of some game-changing defense. Well, we've seen brilliance mixed with disaster, sometimes in the same inning. A .933 fielding percentage and on pace for 30 errors. Not what we were sold in the offseason. And the currency he built up with that strong start at the plate in April is starting to run out. Not impossible to see Beltre hitting somewhere around .240 in July. And if his defense isn't improved by then it could get ugly at Fenway this summer.
Jeremy Hermida (C+)
A ton of big hits for Hermida this season -- batting .412 with two outs and runners in scoring position -- but is he really more than a fourth outfielder? When Cambury comes back we won't need to find out, I suppose. But a .299 OBP and the worst outfield defense since Tom Bosley's three-error meltdown at the 1974 MLB All-Star Softball Classic isn't going to earn a lot of at-bats once everyone is healthy.
David Ortiz (C+)
What's more likely to happen in June with Ortiz: Another month like he had in April (hit .143 with one homer, the subject of roughly 150,000 "Is it over?" stories,) or another May (.367 average, six homers, looks every bit the 2004 Ortiz.) Total coin flip, isn't it? Three weeks from now Ortiz could be in a 4-for-34 slump or he could be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, leading the AL in homers. I think he'll have a couple of brutal slumps and absolute tears the rest of the season and end up with almost the same numbers he did in 2009.
And for what it's worth, it might be easier to muster some sympathy for Ortiz the next time he's struggling and playing the "no respect" card if he would make sure to at least try and jog out of the batter's box on contact. Hanley Ramirez vomited in disgust when he saw the highlight on ESPN.
Manny Delcarmen (C)
And sometimes the numbers do lie. Delcarmen is on pace to set career worsts in K/BB ratio, Ks per nine innings, most homers allowed per nine innings, and has already walked 12 batters in 20 innings. His 2.25 ERA is smoke and mirrors, pitching out of his own jams. But if he keeps walking guys he'll be out of the mix quickly. Walks and low K rates is simply a killer combo for relievers.
Mike Lowell (C)
Probably the easiest grade to hand out. He's been exactly what I figured he'd be -- playing once or twice a week, nothing great but nothing embarrassing, either.
I feel as bad for Lowell as I'm ever going to feel for someone who makes $12 million to play baseball six hours a week. By all accounts he's a terrific guy and great teammate. And it sure seems like he just wants to be released, doesn't want to be a headache. But there is no way the Sox are going to let him go. Why? Well, Nick Johnson is out until at least July. How would it look if the Yankees signed Lowell and he hit .330 for eight weeks (which, you know, isn't out of the realm of possibility.) Nope, unless he's traded somewhere Lowell is stuck in Boston for the rest of the year. I'd keep an eye on the Beltre situation, though. If he's hitting .235 on July 4 there will be some real pressure to give Lowell a couple of weeks at third.
John Lackey (C-)
I'm sure he'll be fine and wind up with 15 wins and an ERA around 4.00 at the end of the year, but we can all agree that this has been an underwhelming start in Boston. The start for the team has kind of kept Lackey's shaky few months in the background. I guess what would worry me is that Lackey still hasn't proven that he can pitch in Fenway Park. His ERA at home this year is 5.52 (3.92 on the road.)
Victor Martinez (D+)
Jason Varitek has a batting average higher than Victor Martinez's on-base percentage. Where does that rank on the "things you don't want to happen in your free agent year" chart?
Marco Scutaro (D+)
He will have better numbers than Alex Gonzalez at the end of the year. Gonzalez is having an all-time fluke start (his slugging percentage is 148 points higher than his career mark.) But let the Gozno crowd enjoy a lap or two. They should stick their chests out right now. Scutaro has looked like another Theo Epstein whiff at shortstop and Gonzalez has had a career six weeks. But when the baseball cards are printed Scutaro will have an OBP 60-70 points higher and (at worst) similar power numbers to Gonzalez. I'm the first to admit that Gonzalez is twice the fielder on his worst day, but I'm willing to trade that in for a huge OBP edge. Yup, I'm one of those scary "know it all's" who thinks getting on base is the best way to score runs. The movement now has a face and a name.
Tim Wakefield (D+)
If Daisuke was just some random one-year contract guy putting up the same numbers he is now do you think he'd be in the rotation today? Yeah, I don't think Wakefield does, either.
Josh Beckett (D)
I wrote the other day that this just feels like it's going to be one of those lost seasons for Beckett. Three DL trips, the encouraging good start (and the inevitable "Beckett is back!" stuff from the fans and media) followed by the three-inning, six run setback. Look, by the time Beckett gets off the DL it'll be June and he'll have one win and an ERA of 7.29. So he'll do very well at this point to grind out a below-average season, something like 10-8 with an ERA of 4.50. Not the kind of best-case scenario the Sox had in mind when he signed that extension in April.
Bill Hall (D)
Has shown that he can't hit at five different positions. Not an easy task.
The Bullpen Guys (D-)
Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima and Scott Schoeneweis have pitched a combined 43.1 innings for the Red Sox this year, a good number of which have been in crucial spots. They have allowed 55 hits, 29 earned runs and 23 walks. That's a WHIP of 1.81. I think the rotation will be OK (even without Beckett.) The lineup is scoring plenty of runs and will only get better when Martinez gets going and Ellsbury returns. Papelbon and Bard are solid as the eighth and ninth inning guys. To me, the biggest question for this team is getting from the starters to Bard, or to Papelbon when Bard isn't available.
Scott Atchison, Josh Reddick, Jonathan Van Every
Incomplete But We Know What He'll Do
Incomplete and Starting to Smell Like A Miss
Mike Cameron. Not fair, but I wonder if you gave Theo a mulligan on Cameron if he'd take it. He's 37 years old and thinks he'll need offseason surgery for a sports hernia that still leaves him in "significant pain" when he plays. Think he's going to steal 20 bases and cover a lot of ground in center field?
Incomplete but Could Easily Be the Only "F" if I Wasn't Such a Peach of a Guy
Daisuke. He's 6-7 with an ERA of 6.33 and a WHIP of 1.78 since the start of the 2009 season. I don't think it has anything to do with Victor Martinez, either. You could put Johnny Bench circa 1976 back there and it wouldn't matter. Until Matsuzaka starts throwing strikes he's going to be, at best, just another pitcher. If Wakefield fills in for Beckett with a couple of starts even close to the one he had last week it's going to be a tough sell for Francona to move him back to the pen while keeping Daisuke in the rotation.