Report card time. We last handed out grades at the quarter-season mark (May 19), and much has changed. At that time the Sox were doing the lambada with .500, and it seemed that we might be headed for a lost season. Since then, the Red Sox have lost Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Clay Buchholz and Manny Delcarmen to the DL. Josh Beckett hasn't pitched once since the last report card and Jacoby Ellsbury has played three games.
If I had told you on May 19 that all these injuries were coming and guys like Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald and Kevin Cash were going to be regulars would you have ever guessed that the Red Sox would enter the All-Star Break with a 51-37 record, just three games out of the wild card and five games behind the Yankees? I'm guessing 37-51 would have been an easier sell.
But here they are, still in the thick of the whole thing. Terry Francona has perhaps done his best job (did you know he's never won Manager of the Year?) by putting band-aids on bullet wounds, just waiting for the Main Event guys to return. And do they need to return -- this Yankees team isn't going backward, and Tampa Bay is going to win over 90 games. For the Sox to make a playoff push they'll need all hands on deck for the last couple of months.
So with the second half of the season kicking off Thursday we take a look back at the first half. But we also have a little fun and take a shot at guessing what the season-ending grade of each player will be. How is that not fun?
All stats through 7/11 ….
Jon Lester (A)
Taking everything into account -- age, durability, established performance level, ability to perform in the clutch, AL vs. NL, current contract status -- is there a single pitcher in Major League Baseball today that you would absolutely trade Jon Lester for?
For me, no. There a few close calls, to be sure. Of course a case can be made for a guy like Tim Linecum. But it's not a lock you'd take him over Lester, right? Do we know that Linecum would the same pitcher in the AL East? And do we really trust that delivery to hold up over 10-12 years? Nitpicking to be sure, but that's kind of what this debate comes down to. Who else? Felix Hernandez has to be a candidate. And he's at least every bit the pitcher Lester is. But look at the contracts. Lester will make $43 million over the next five years, Hernandez $78 million over the same span. No way Hernandez is $7 million a year better than Lester. Not even close. Too early to even hear the case for Stephen Strasburg. Josh Johnson is interesting. He and Lester are basically the same age (Lester is three and half weeks older) and have similar career lines. Lester has a career record of 53-19, Johnson 43-19. Lester has a career 8.1/3.3 K/BB ratio, Johnson's is 8.2/3.0. WHIP? Lester's is 1.29, Johnson 1.23. But push to shove I'm still going with the guy I know can pitch in the AL East. And I need more than half a year from David Price. Am I missing anyone else?
End of the season grade? Lester was my preseason Cy Young pick and I see no reason to jump off the horse. (A)
Kevin Youkilis (A)
If he keeps up this pace he's headed for his third straight top-six finish in AL MVP voting. No small feat when you consider that would be the exact number of times Carl Yastrzemski finished in the top six in his 23-year career.
End of the season grade? Unless an injury lingers, you know what you'll get from Youkilis. He's going to finish with around .300-30-100 with about 100 walks and an OPS somewhere around 1.000. (A)
Daniel Bard (A-)
Left-handed hitters vs. Bard this season have a slugging percentage of .122. Just one extra-base hit (a double) in 84 plate appearances. If you entered the season convinced that Daniel Bard was eventually going to be one of the top three closers in baseball there has been nothing so far in 2010 that would give you pause. Only a matter of time before he takes the ninth-inning wheel at Fenway.
End of the season grade? Well, the Sox are going to limit his innings (already started, actually-- he's pitched twice since June 29), which could mean he'll be better with more rest. Of course it's also possible he'll struggle a bit to find his rhythm if his appearances aren't consistent. No way to know. My best guess is that he mostly continues to dominate but hits a rough patch at some point. (B+)
Adrian Beltre (A-)
Only his defense keeps him from joining Lester and Youkilis, which of course makes all the sense in the world. Clearly he was brought in to be a "hit .330 and we'll live with some shaky moments in the field" guy.
If I'm the Sox I have to shake hands and let Beltre walk at the end of the season. Take a look at his baseball-reference page and you'll never guess which two seasons (well, season and a half) are far and away his most productive. His OPS in 2004 was 1.017 and this season it is .907. His highest total in any other season is .835. Throw in the Boras Factor and it's a pass for me. I can't risk $75-80 million on the hope that Beltre will suddenly start to perform in non-contract seasons. Too much history. But he's sure been terrific this year. He's having the best season by a Red Sox third baseman since Bill Mueller's hugely underrated 2003 season (batting title, .540 slugging). But do you think Beltre will actually finish the season above .300? OK, probably he will, but put it this way: If I'm setting the over/under at, say, .312, which way are you going?
End of the season grade? He'll field better, but won't hit as much. There's just too much evidence to allow me to believe that Beltre will keep hitting at this level. But I don't think he'll collapse. Somewhere in the .310 range, 20 HRs and 95 RBI. (B+)
Clay Buchholz (A-)
From a trade chip battling with Tim Wakefield for the fifth spot in the rotation to an All-Star in just four months.
Strange but true: Buchholz had 92.0 IP in 2009, the same number of innings he has pitched so far in 2010. And even though his ERA in 2010 is nearly two full runs lower (2.45 vs. 4.21) he has two more walks and four fewer strikeouts in the 92 IP this season. So what's the difference? Well, he's allowed 14 fewer hits, sure, but the answer is home runs. Buchholz gave up 11 HR in 76 IP in 2008 and 13 in the 92 IP last year. This year? Just three homers. That will be the stat to watch for Buchholz in the second half.
End of the season grade? Hard to shake the idea that Buchholz has been a little lucky so far. Some critical numbers haven't changed, but his ERA and wins are way up. There is no question that he's a better pitcher than a year ago today, but how much better? Put it another way: If I own Clay Buchholz in a fantasy league he's an all-time "sell high" guy. (B)
Daniel Nava (B+)
Who knows how this'll end, but clearly we are already at the house money stage with Nava. Can't hit left-handed pitching (.211 BA) and his K/BB numbers don't translate to long-term success (just six walks vs. 24 Ks). But come on, is there a better story in Boston sports in 2010 than Nava? At the very worst he's been a terrific bridge guy as the Sox wait for the injured guys to return.
End of the season grade? You want to believe the hits will keep on coming, but I can't bank on a hitter with no power and a terrible K/BB ratio. (B-)
David Ortiz (B+)
Sixth in the AL in OPS, sixth in walks, third in HR per AB, sixth in slugging. I have no doubt that at some point in the second half he'll have a three-week slump and the "is he finished?" whispers will be back. And then he'll hit four homers in a week and everyone will run to other extreme. But he's probably going end up with his best numbers since 2007, somewhere in the .260-30-105 range. Is that worth a two-year, $22 million deal?
End of the season grade? Well, what does .260-30-105 get you for a final grade? That would rate pretty highly. (B+)
Dustin Pedroia (B+)
Bounced back a rough May (.213 BA) with a superb June (1.075 OPS), getting his numbers to where they usually are before breaking his foot in San Francisco. His slugging percentage and OPS this season are higher than his MVP year of 2008.
End of the season grade? Tough one. Hard to judge A) when he'll be back and B) if this is one of those injuries that will limit his production for the rest of the season. Though I wouldn't be stunned if he came off the DL and started hitting right away the better bet is some kind of adjustment period. (B)
Victor Martinez (B)
Sort of lost in the improbable Ortiz comeback was Martinez, a disaster in April (.238 BA with the kind of defense that had more than few wondering if Varitek every day wasn't the worst idea). But he was good in May (.563 slugging, 19 RBI) and in June (.354 BA) was the guy that Red Sox fans saw last season.
End of the season grade? See Pedroia. (B-)
Jonathan Papelbon (B)
An ERA (3.50) nearly a run and a half higher than his career total. The worst K per inning total of his career. He has already allowed more HRs (six) than in any other season. Papelbon has been OK, but nothing more. A perfectly serviceable closer is fine when the guy is making no money and has no serious understudy, but that is not the current state of the ninth-inning situation in Boston. A story that should provide plenty of fodder over the next year or so, because you and I know that Papelbon will not go quietly into that free-agency night.
End of the season grade? I think Papelbon will have a better second half. He's looked good so far in July (3 IP, 0.00 ERA) and there were other spots in the first half where he seemed close to the old Papelbon. Maybe we won't see the 2006-07 Papelbon again -- that was a someone pitching on an all-time top five closer level-- but is three months of the 2008 Papelbon a reach? I don't think so. (B+)
Jason Varitek (B)
Seems the backup role is a perfect fit, maybe he even has another year or two in him. He's been Albert Pujols at Fenway Park this season, hitting .320 with an OPS of 1.024 in 19 games.
End of the season grade? Another injury guy, so this is coin flip stuff. But is it possible that -- assuming his foot is fully healed -- six weeks of rest isn't the worst thing for a 38-year-old catcher? I suspect he'll come back and play the role of backup catcher/team leader/shoulder to cry on for the pitchers to the same level that he did before he was hurt. (B-)
Darnell McDonald (B-)
The American League average for slugging percentage this season in .410. McDonald is slugging .411. The league on-base percentage is .331. McDonald's OBP is .330. He has been the personification of an average AL hitter in 2010, which the Red Sox would have gladly signed for if they had known he was going to have 192 at-bats in the first half of the season.
End of the season grade? Same problem as Nava. This isn't a Disney movie, so I don't think 2010 will end with McDonald hitting a game-winning homer in Game 7 of the World Series. Reality (masked as a big slump) is lurking. (C)
Tim Wakefield (B-)
Pitcher A: 14 starts, eight quality starts, 1.32 WHIP
Pitcher B: 15 starts, nine quality starts, 1.25 WHIP
Pitcher A is Tim Wakefield in 2010. Pitcher B is Clay Buchholz in 2010.
Don't be fooled by the 5.22 ERA -- take away one start vs. the Royals (nine ER in 3.2 IP) and it's 4.40, which isn't great but not a disaster. The truth is that Wakefield has pitched pretty well this season, and at $3.5 million has been a nice insurance policy with the injuries to Beckett and now Buchholz.
End of the season grade? Will it be Good Wake or Bad Wake? We've seen both a million times since 1995. July has historically a good month for Wakefield (best winning percentage and K per nine inning rate of any month) so I'll take a small leap and guess that a good July paves the way for a solid second half. (B-)
Scott Atchison (C+)
I think I graded him too low, to be honest. His primary job should be to get right-handers out. And you know what? Righties are hitting just .160 against him. After Papelbon and Bard is there anyone in that bullpen that you know is going to pitch better than Atchison the rest of the season? Me either. And that's why I have to think bullpen help is going to be first up for Theo as the deadline nears.
End of the season grade? A 34-year-old with 71 career appearances has only 71 career appearances for a reason, so the other shoe awaits. But relief pitching is a quirky thing. Guys have random good years all the time. It wouldn't surprise me if Atchison was lights-out for the rest of the year and it wouldn't surprise me if he came back from the All-Star Break and couldn't get an out. He could be the established seventh-inning guy two months from today or he could already be two teams removed form the Sox. But I'll stick with the random good year, even if he stays out of the key innings. (B-)
Mike Cameron (C)
Maybe the toughest player to grade. You know he's playing hurt, but there's no way to mask the fact that he's been a disappointment. Finally starting to hit (.389 BA so far in July), and could really give this team a huge boost if he had a productive second half.
End of the season grade? A 37-year-old with an impending sports hernia surgery? Not the best bet for American League Player of the Month in July, August or September. (C-)
J.D. Drew (C)
Hasn't been the same player in 2010 (OPS is 78 points lower than 2009). He's not walking as much, for one thing. Drew has 34 walks in 301 plate appearances, a ratio of one free pass every 8.9 times at bat. Heading into the season his career walk per plate appearance number was 6.9. He hasn't fallen off a cliff or anything, the overall numbers are OK, but there has been a pretty clear drop.
End of the season grade? In each of Drew's seasons with the Red Sox he's had at least one month with an OPS of at least 1.100. Hasn't happened in 2010 -- yet. If Buchholz is my best bit to have a stumble in the second half Drew is my pick to bounce back. (B-)
Bill Hall (C)
It's swell that he's played seven positions this year, and it's kind of fun to have a jack of all trades guy kicking around. It's been a while for the Red Sox. But to be truly valuable you have to hit while filling in at all these spots. But to be fair Hall is starting to contribute at the plate (.829 OPS in June). He's only hitting .206 vs. LHP this season, which is 60 points below his career average vs. lefties.
End of the season grade? He's already played 60 games, which was about the number I figured he'd play for the entire season. When everyone gets back he'll fade into the background, but he has value. Maybe he even wins a game or two with his bat off the bench. Too bad Eddie Andelman isn't around, because you know we'd be getting "Let's get the Red Sox to play Hall at all nine positions in the same game" shows by now. That and scavenger hunts are radio gold. (C)
Marco Scutaro (C)
I can't play the Alex Gonzalez card, I thought Scutaro made more sense. I figured Scutaro would, while not the equal of Gonzalez, be steady enough on defense (not quite) and give the Red Sox a solid OBP guy in the lineup (correct enough-- his OBP is 52 points higher than Gonzalez). The pro-Alex Gonzalez crowd is in the middle of a brisk victory lap right now. That's fine, but I don't want to hear about the 17 home runs. When the Sox signed Scutaro I didn't hear word one about the loss of Gonzalez's bat. And if I could pick either player for the rest of the year I'd still take Scutaro. I'll take a sure 50-point OBP edge over the chance that Gonzalez hits another 17 homers.
End of the season grade? He's fighting some injuries, so I don't expect a second-half spike. (C)
Manny Delcarmen (C-)
Was probably looking at a "B" until the final three appearances before he was put on the DL with a forearm strain. His ERA was 2.23 for the season when he entered the game at Colorado on June 24. Over that next week he pitched one inning (did not record an out in two of the three appearances), giving up nine earned runs and nine hits. Hello to a 4.59 ERA and the disabled list.
End of the season grade? Again, he was really good before the injury, so if he returns healthy I think he'll jump right back into a key role in the 'pen. If he keeps the walks down he'll be effective (5.4 per nine innings this season). (C)
Jeremy Hermida (C-)
Gets points for some big early-season hits, but unless you are Ozzie Smith in his prime an OBP of .268 renders it impossible for you to be a useful player.
End of the season grade? Assuming he comes back from the broken ribs, what is his role on this team if everyone is healthy? Has he been passed by Nava and McDonald? And if the Sox go after David DeJesus (yes!) or Jayson Werth (meh) it's hard to see any at-bats for Hermida. He was a low-risk acquisition (makes $3.3 million, one-year deal) but there has been little reward. (C-)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (C-)
On May 17, Matsuzaka gave up seven runs in 4.2 IP against the Yankees. His ERA for the season was 7.89. Since then? He has an ERA of 3.12, bringing the season ERA down to 4.56. What has been the secret? I have no idea. I've been looking at the stats for a half hour and nothing jumps out. He's still walking guys and giving up hits. I think it's as simple as this: He has pulled out some of the 2008 magic. That year he was 24th in the AL in WHIP but third in ERA. Why? He got out of jams. For the last six weeks or so he's been pulling the same act.
End of the season grade? Well, we learned in 2009 and the first part of this season that there things get pretty ugly when the magic ends. Dice-K just puts too many men on base to be a consistently solid MLB pitcher. Throw in the injury risk and I'm thinking we may have already seen the best of Matsuzaka in 2010. (D+)
John Lackey (D+)
Of the 56 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the league leaders, John Lackey ranks 53rd in WHIP and 44th in ERA. His WHIP, hits per nine innings, walks per nine innings, ERA and Ks per nine innings are the worst of his career. He does rank in the top 10 in the AL in one key stat -- run support (seventh). If he were on the Royals he'd probably have a 5-9 record, not 9-5.
End of the season grade? Well, he had a terrible first half in 2009 (4.93 ERA) and turned it around in the second half. (3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP). There is no reason to think that John Lackey has just suddenly lost the ability to pitch at the level we've seen from him over the last seven or eight years. The real question is if that established level -- 1.30 WHIP, ERA somewhere in the mid to high 3.00's-- is worthy of the kind of contract Lackey received. Think he gets the same money if he had put up the exact same numbers in, say, Pittsburgh since 2002? (C)
Josh Beckett (D)
Beckett's hasn't pitched since my last report card, so the ol' copy and paste job should do here (from May 19):
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 (now July, maybe) 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.
End of the season grade? Beckett can pull a Rasheed Wallace, however, and render this entire regular season irrelevant if the Sox make it to the postseason and he pitches well. Not sure the Sox can make it to the playoffs, though, without a couple of months of Lester/Beckett/Lackey. Not good when it's July 14 and Beckett has contributed more to Pawtucket than he has to Boston. But same as it is with Lackey, there is just too much history to suggest that Beckett won't have a stretch where he pitches very well for this team. Might only be for a month, but the Sox would take that if the month is October. (C-)
Mike Lowell (D)
You know how you sort of forget sometimes that Robert Duvall is in "The Godfather?" I have that same problem with Lowell and the Red Sox this year. Each time I see a "Report: Lowell to stay in Florida" or something like that I need a second to register that they mean Mike Lowell (not that there's a Ted Lowell) and he's still a member of the Red Sox. If I set his number of at-bats for the rest of the season at 11.5 are you going over or under?
Trivia: Who is older -- Mike Lowell today or Duvall when "The Godfather" came out?
Answer: Duvall was 41, Lowell is just 36. Man, Duvall was old even when he was young.
End of the season grade? No change. He's all but done in Boston. (D)
Ramon Ramirez (D)
Maybe Bard is the MVP of the team to date in 2010, as some have suggested. He's having a great year while no one else in the bullpen is even having an average one. Ramirez had an ERA under 3.00 in is first full month with the Red Sox -- May 2009. He hasn't had a month with an ERA under 3.00 since.
End of the season grade? Hard to think he'll suddenly turn it on at this point. (D)
Hideki Okajima (D-)
Okajima's ERA year-by year:
And one more …
Hits per nine innings:
One of the 10 best relievers in baseball in 2007 has probably been one of the 10 worst in 2010. Okajima has just a one-year contract and I'm thinking the Red Sox aren't going to pay him in 2011 to watch the trends continue.
End of the season grade? What's going to change? A couple of solid mop-up appearances won't do the trick. (D)
Joe Nelson, Boof Bonser, Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Kevin Cash, Angel Sanchez, Jonathan Van Every, Josh Reddick, Eric Patterson, Gustavo Molina, Niuman Romero, Ryan Shealy, Robert Manuel
INCOMPLETE (But will he still be at the end of the season?):