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 2011.
And what a season it has already been. The Chase to .500 has replaced the March to 100 Wins. And now the Sox have climbed over the mark of mediocrity, at least for a day. So let's take us a little gander and see what has gone right and what has gone horribly wrong (no need to raise your hand, we don't want to push that strained right elbow).
To the report card we go (all stats are through 5/16) ...
Josh Beckett (A)
Full disclosure: I'm wrong literally all the time (I knew, for example, that Jerome Moiso was going to be a future All-Star when the Celtics drafted him 11th in 2000, I mean I just knew it). But so far I'm looking historically wrong when it comes to Beckett, who I wrote was "damaged goods" before the season started. Again, it's very early -- a couple of bad starts and it's back to questioning the $68 million contract -- but if the season ended on May 17 Josh Beckett would have my vote as the Cy Young winner. He leads the AL in ERA (1.75), hits per nine innings (5.4) and is fourth in WHIP (0.896) and sixth in K's per nine innings (8.59).
Stat That Jumps Out At You: In five starts vs. the Yankees last season, Beckett had a batting average against of .338 (same career average as Tony Gwynn). In two starts vs. the Yankees this year, Beckett has a batting average against of .128 (one point higher than Joaquin Andujar's career batting average).
Matt Albers (A-)
Or why it's impossible to have any expectation for a bullpen, Reason No. 34,382: Theo Epstein spent a combined $18 million to lock up Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks, moves that had everyone (me included, did I mention I might not always be right?) convinced that this bullpen would be a massive upgrade over 2010's group. Well, we are a quarter into the season and Wheeler and Jenks have combined to allow 22 earned runs in 19 innings (and both are on the DL). Albers was signed for a one-year, 875 K deal in December, a deal that led to -- I'm guessing -- zero calls on 'EEI and the third or fourth item in the daily Sox notes in the Globe or Herald. But Albers has been an under-the-radar savior, allowing just three runs in 16 innings. Will it last? Probably not, given his history (career 4.94 ERA), but maybe he pops one of those random great seasons a guy gives you out of the 'pen.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Continuing on the idea that we might be watching a fluke start, Albers has struck out 16 batters in his 16.1 IP this season. In his five previous seasons he has never averaged better than 6.6 K's per nine innings.
Adrian Gonzalez (A-)
About what we expected, right? On pace for 38 homers and 141 RBI, not a surprise given the Escape From Petco. He was my preseason MVP pick and has done nothing to move me away from that selection. If Carl Crawford was an obvious overpay at $142 million, Gonzalez is a steal at $154 million.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Gonzalez walked 119 times in 2009 and 93 times in 2010. He's on pace for just 58 walks this season.
Alfredo Aceves (B+)
After watching the series over the weekend, I'm thinking the Yankees probably could've found a spot for this guy. I understand there's an injury history, but Aceves has now pitched in 69 major-league games. His record is 14-1 with an ERA of 3.14. His WHIP for the Sox this season is 1.11, which is actually higher than his career mark. Sometimes there's just too much evidence to ignore, and everything Aceves has done points to him being a legitimate big-league pitcher. Given the struggles of Lackey and the always fragile status of Dice-K, if I gave you an over/under of 4.5 on starts for Aceves this season which way are you going?
Stat That Jumps Out At You: In 2009, Aceves stuck out 69 batters against just 16 walks in 84.0 IP. Since then, he's stuck out nine batters against 10 walks in 26.1 IP.
Jonathan Papelbon (B+)
The difference between the Papelbon of 2006-08 and the pitcher we saw in 2009-10 was walks. That was it. He walked a total of 36 batters in 192 IP from 2006-08, and 52 in 135 IP the last two years. This year? Just two walks in 16.2 IP. His K numbers haven't changed the last four years -- always right around 10 per nine innings -- and if he keeps his walks down there's no reason to think that his last season in a Red Sox uniform won't be a terrific springboard into free agency.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: After his first 16.2 IP last year, Papelbon had already walked nine batters.
Jacoby Ellsbury (B)
Glad he's bounced back, if only because it will undoubtedly lead to an explosion of 17-year-old kids named Jacoby asking their mothers why they have that tattoo on the lower part of their back in 2029.
Ellsbury has done everything Sox fans needed to see after last season, proving durable (he and Gonzalez were the only guys to play in each of the 40 games) and productive. OK, his K/BB numbers are always going to be terrible (32 strikeouts against 10 walks so far) but if he hits somewhere near .300 the Sox will live with it.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: To say the Red Sox haven't had a base-stealing threat other than Ellsbury over the last 30 years is kind of like saying Marlee Matlin has had to battle typecasting in her career. Ellsbury -- if he stays healthy -- is going to pass Carl Yastrzemski this season for third all-time on the franchise SB list (Ellsbury is at 148, Yaz at 168). The nine guys not named Ellsbury on the top 10 list have been out of major-league baseball for a combined 684 years.
Jed Lowrie (B)
If we lived in a world where salaries meant nothing he would have been the Opening Day shortstop, of course. He has slowed down in May (.240/.291/.340) but was the club's best hitter in April (.368/.389/.574).
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Lowrie's OPS at Fenway this season (.976) is 355 points higher than his road total (.631).
David Ortiz (B)
A completely drama-free start for a change, Ortiz at this stage of his career sort of reminds me of where Conan O'Brien currently stands at TBS. You don't really notice him anymore, he stays out of the way, no more controversy, but the work is still pretty solid and management is happy enough with the numbers. Ironically, Ortiz also retired the masturbating bear from his act in February 2009.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Ortiz had a on-base percentage of .298 vs. left-handed pitchers in 2009 and just .275 in 2010. This year his OBP vs. LHP is .413 in 46 plate appearances.
Jon Lester (B-)
Off to the best start of his career, but his last two outings (nine runs in 11.1 IP) raised his ERA from 2.33 to 3.28. Still, any Sox fan would have signed up for 5-1, 3.28 from Lester, particularly after his rough Opening Day start at Texas.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Lester has a career record of 66-26, good for a .7173 winning percentage. That is the best winning percentage of any pitcher in history with at least 50 decisions, just ahead of Spud Chandler's .7171 (who pitched from 1937-1947 for the Yankees and finished with a 109-43 record).
Kevin Youkilis (B-)
As a group we are, I think, finally all on board with the idea that batting average doesn't mean a whole lot. Youkilis hit just .218 in April but was every bit as productive as, say, Michael Young, who hit .342 in April:
Young: .353 OPB, two walks, 15 runs, .495 slugging, 19 RBI
Youkilis: .392 OBP, 21 walks, 15 runs, .487 slugging, 15 RBI
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Youkilis has been hit by 71 pitches in his career, tied with Mo Vaughn to lead all players in franchise history. Only Don Baylor (1,096) has fewer plate appearances than Youkilis (3,448) among players in the top 10.
Daniel Bard (C)
Remove Opening Day (a complete meltdown -- four runs in a third of an innings), and Bard's ERA is 1.32. But Opening Day did happen, and Bard has also been quasi-shaky in other spots (loss to Orioles on April 27, messy inning on Friday night vs. the Yankees). He's still the Closer of The Future, but the Closer of The Present has had a better season to date.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Bard has 20 appearances this season, second to Kansas City's Tim Collins (22) among all AL pitchers.
Clay Buchholz (C)
I think what you've seen this year is the real Clay Buchholz -- last year is going to be an outlier when his career is done. That's OK -- no shame in an ERA in the high 3.00's- low 4.00's and 12-15 wins a year (and there will be plenty of stretches like the one he's in the middle of, and plenty like the one to start the season). He just walks too many guys (almost four per nine innings this season, worst since 2008) and doesn't strike out enough batters (5.9 this year, would be worst of his career) to be year-in, year-out dominant.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Zero. The number of outs Buchholz has recorded after the seventh inning this season. Again, too many walks. He gave up just one run in 5.1 IP vs. the A's on April 20, but needed 102 pitches. Why? Four walks.
Dustin Pedroia (C-)
The good: He has played in 39-of-40 games after last year's foot surgery. The bad: He has a grand total of seven extra-base hits in 150 at-bats and has already struck out 30 times (he has never struck out more than 52 times in a season).
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Of the 99 batters with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, Pedroia is tied with the Hitter Formerly Known As Derek Jeter for 81st in slugging percentage.
J.D. Drew (D+)
Another regular with just seven extra-base hits (four doubles, a triple, two HR's) this season. It's almost impossible for even the biggest Drew apologists to make a case that Drew should be playing every day. And it's safe to make this declaration on behalf of Sox fans: Your kind of long, not-so-national nightmare is about over. A year from now J.D. Drew will simply be a punchline, instead of what he is now: A punchline that you are forced to watch for three hours a night.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: The pilot for The Paul Reiser Show had the lowest rating for a sitcom in NBC history, until the second week of The Paul Reiser Show. Nothing to do with Drew, but I love that people making millions of dollars a year to program TV shows sat in a room somewhere in Hollywood and thought, "I think we have to green-light this Paul Reiser show. It just makes too much sense. After all, I can't walk through my office without tripping over all these petitions to bring back Mad About You."
Daisuke Matsuzaka (D+)
Could be higher, I suppose. Isn't 3-3 with a 4.64 ERA about what we expected? Matsuzaka has made seven starts this year (skipped over in Yankees' series). Two were brilliant (15 IP, two hits and zero runs allowed in back-to-back starts on April 18 and April 23), one was a disaster (eight hits, seven runs in two IP vs. Tampa on April 11), there were three so-so's and an injury-shortened (1.0 IP, two runs) outing vs. Anaheim on May 4. Was he massively over-hyped and dramatically overpaid? Sure. But as a fifth starter you can do worse.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Matsuzaka's K per nine innings has decreased in each of his five seasons with the Sox. It was 8.8 in 2007 and is just 6.5 this season.
(Note: Yes, this column was written before Daisuke's implosion on Monday night. That was as ugly as it gets, even for Matsuzaka -- no small feat.)
Mike Cameron (D)
Uh, why did he get a two-year, $15.5 million deal again? What am I missing? Who would have guessed that a 37-year-old (at the time of signing the contract) might have some injury troubles and serious decline in production? This was a first guess. The contract struck me as nonsensical from Day One.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Cameron had 296 career stolen bases when he signed with the Red Sox on December 14, 2009. On May 16, 2011, Mike Cameron had 296 career stolen bases.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (D)
Could easily be an F, I guess, but I had zero expectation for Saltalamacchia heading into the season. There are moments when you see why the Sox were enamored with the guy, but he's been nowhere close to a representative major-league hitter this season (.217/.261/.313).
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Saltalamacchia has 24 strikeouts this season, one more than his total of hits and walks combined.
Marco Scutaro (D)
A cautionary tale when it comes to buying high. Scutaro had never had a season with a slugging percentage over .400 or an OPS + over 100 before 2009. The Sox banked that it wasn't a career year, and that a 34-year-old shortstop would continue to produce at a level higher than in any of his first seven MLB seasons. Well, it hasn't come close to working out. Scutaro -- at $6 million a year -- hasn't stayed healthy (played 150 games with a shoulder injury in 2010, on DL currently with strained left oblique) and has a .380 slugging percentage in 700 at-bats. Another lousy contract from Theo.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Scutaro had never walked more than 57 times before the 2009 season, when he jumped to 90 (seventh in AL) walks to finish the season with an OBP of .379. In 771 plate appearances with the Red Sox he has walked 61 times and has an OBP of just .331.
Jason Varitek (D)
Look, I tend to think Varitek's value to a pitching staff is a tad overblown -- you only hear about the good stuff, no one ever brings up Matt Clement, B.K. Kim, Keith Foulke (in 2005) or Josh Beckett and his 5.01 ERA in 2006 (didn't see any Captain Magic Dust floating around on Monday night with Daisuke, either). I'm not questioning his value defensively, I just think there tends to be a halo attached to it sometimes. But if he's going to hit .164 he better be the greatest defensive catcher of all time, or else there is no reason for him to be in the lineup.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: If you take away his April 2010 (.323), Varitek has a batting average of .207 since the 2007 All-Star Break.
Tim Wakefield (D)
Even at 44 years old with an ERA of 5.40, right now he's an upgrade over John Lackey.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Wakefield is the active leader in wins with 193. The last time there was no active major-league pitcher with at least 200 wins was June 25th, 1968 (Don Drysdale won his 200th game the next day).
Carl Crawford (D-)
I know I've hammered this over and over, but Carl Crawford is the kind of player the Sox would have stayed away from three, four years ago. He has a hideous K/BB ratio (768/293 with Tampa, 28 K's and just six walks this season) with a career road OBP of .330 and a career Fenway slugging percentage of .406. I didn't think he would have a .208/.242/.286 line on May 16 (and that's after an 11-game hitting streak), but even at his best I don't think he's worth anything near $142 million.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Crawford entered the 2011 season with a career batting average of .296. Assuming he bats 655 times (his average number of AB's in the first nine years of his career), this season Crawford would have to hit .319 the rest of the way to finish the year with a .296 mark.
Bobby Jenks/Dan Wheeler (D-)
Touched on these guys earlier. There's a reason Jenks was available in the offseason -- he had career worsts in WHIP, ERA and was removed as closer in the second half by the White Sox -- and he struck most as less of a sure thing than Wheeler, who had a WHIP of 1.01 over the last three seasons in Tampa.
It was reported basically as fact that the Sox bullpen would be better when these two guys signed … why? Jenks was coming off the worst season of his career and Wheeler is 33 years old and three years removed from a season with a 5.76 ERA. We know this but should probably tattoo it to the back to the back of our eyelids: There is never a sure thing when it comes to relief pitching (save for Mariano Rivera).
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Well, if you want to look for some positives, Jenks has struck out 10 batters in his 8.2 IP, and Wheeler has eight K's against just a single walk in his 10.1 IP.
John Lackey (F)
Don't know if this a mercy DL stint or not -- strained right elbow sounds vague enough to be a pretty good cover to me -- but of this there is no question: John Lackey has been the worst starting pitcher in baseball this season. And it's not even close. Last in ERA, last in WHIP, giving up 12.1 hits per nine innings and striking out 4.3 hitters per nine. I'm not unsympathetic to what is going on in Lackey's personal life, but numbers are numbers. If he had signed a two-year, $8.2 million contract he'd have been released by now.
Stat That Jumps Out At You: Lackey has an ERA of 4.95 in 40 starts with the Red Sox. Wade Miller signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Sox in 2005 and had a season that most would rank as forgettable at best, making 16 starts before being removed from the rotation in August. His ERA for the season? 4.95.
Incomplete: Darnell McDonald, Jose Iglesias, Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill, Felix Doubront, Scott Atchison