Ready for a first-half Red Sox report card?
You're getting one anyway.
It's been worse than ugly -- it's been mediocre. This is what .500 looks like, huh? Injuries, underperforming stars, palace intrigue, endless taped segments with Jenny Dell.
The Red Sox, heading into the second half, are flirting with something they haven't seen in a decade. Irrelevance. If this team is three, four games under .500 when the Patriots open up training camp there will be no interest. None. Sellouts, sure, but no interest.
OK, to the report card. Grades, of course, are heavily based on expectations heading into the season.
Here we go ...
Scott Atchison (A):
He's come back to earth a little over the last couple of weeks -- his ERA was 0.86 on June 8 and is 1.79 after giving up two runs on Sunday night -- but he's been absolutely terrific this season, easily the best pitcher (not just reliever, pitcher) on this team, which is remarkable when you look at his age and career. Put it another way: Atchison's numbers in the first half (1.79 ERA, .993 WHIP) would have been perfectly acceptable from Daniel Bard had Bard stayed in the bullpen.
David Ortiz (A):
We all have suspicions. That's how it goes and that's on Bud Selig and all the players over the last couple of decades. It won't change, we will always have doubts when things happen that don't match what should happen. But numbers are numbers and this is true: David Ortiz, at age 36 (same age as Atchison) is having as good a season as any in his career. His OPS+ is 166, which would rank only behind 2007 in his career. It might not seem as though he's the same hitter as he was in, say, 2006, but things have changed. That season Ortiz was one of eight hitters to have an OPS over 1.000 -- this year there are just five. Thirty-two guys had an OPS higher than .900 in 2006. This year there are 23. If he keeps this pace up and the Sox make a legitimate postseason run in the second half Ortiz will be an MVP candidate.
Matt Albers (A-):
What Albers and Atchison and Andrew Miller are doing this season is exactly why teams don't spend a lot of money on the bullpen. It's tricky, though -- do Albers and Atchison eventually turn back into Albers and Atchison or can the Sox get a full season out of both? Albers has killed righties, allowing a .291 slugging percentage in 79 at-bats.
Andrew Miller (A-):
Miller (holding lefties to a .156/.204./.222 line), Albers and Atchison -- arguably three of the four or five most valuable players on this team this season -- will make a combined $2.55 million this year, or about $8 million less than Carl Crawford has been paid already this season.
Scott Podsednik (A-):
Another 36-year-old standout. It seems he's done more in 62 at-bats (.387/.409/.484) than Crawford has done in a year and a half.
Will Middlebrooks (B+):
Look, he's not Brooks Robinson, and there will be the inevitable ups and downs, but if I set his career All-Star Game appearances at 4.5 you are going over, right? I don't care if Youkilis hits .450 over the next three months, this was a trade that had to happen. Middlebrooks needs to play every day, and that wasn't going to be the case if Youkilis was around. I can already smell the beginning of revisionism going on, all of a sudden people are starting to suggest that the Sox should have kept Youkilis. No one was writing or saying that a couple of weeks ago.
Cody Ross (B+)
His slugging percentage, should it hold, would be the highest in any full season of his career by a fairly significant total (.537, his career high is .488). There's no real mystery as to why. His Fenway slugging percentage is almost 100 points higher than his road number (.576-.482).
Kelly Shoppach (B+)
Think he's been an upgrade over Varitek? You cannot ask for better numbers -- .527 slugging percentage, .885 OPS -- from a backup catcher. If everyone on this team did their job as well as Shoppach over the first three months they'd be a long way removed from 43-43.
Daniel Nava (B):
A switch-hitter who is ultimately a platoon player. Nava has had 92 plate appearances in his career against LHP -- resulting in a .187 batting average with a .280 slugging percentage. It'll be interesting to see what -- if any -- role he has when everyone returns, but he can help this team against right-handed pitching.
Felix Doubront (B-):
We all figured he'd be the best starting pitcher on this team. As promising a season as he's having -- don't forget he's only 24 -- Doubront still has an ERA of 4.41 (25th in the AL) and a WHIP of 1.38 (29th in the AL). So the idea that this is a no-doubt future ace is a hard sell. But he sure seems to be a fixture in the rotation for the next half decade at least.
Franklin Morales (B-):
Strangest spilt of the first half:
Morales at home: 1-2, 6.14 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 22.0 IP
Morales on road: 0-0, 1.11 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 24.1 IP
Terrible at Fenway, Pedro Martinez on the road.
Vicente Padilla (B-):
Strangest spilt of the first half, runner-up:
Padilla at home: 1-0, 6.59 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 13.2IP
Padilla on road: 1-0, 1.96 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 18.1 IP
Actually, this is stranger than the Morales numbers, if only because Padilla has a higher WHIP on the road but his home ERA is almost four runs higher. It strikes me that everyone wants to portray this as a season that has seen everything go wrong. And it has been when it comes to injuries and mediocre production from A-list players. But I keep going back to this: What happens if the bullpen goes to hell in the second half, which given the characters involved isn't exactly out of the realm of possibility?
Jarrod Saltalamachia (B-):
He's having about as good a year as you can have with a BB/K ratio of 16/72. It's tough to stay productive with those numbers, and it's fair to ask if we are starting to see the fall with Saltalamachia over the last month (spilt of .208/.279/.442 in June, has just two hits in 25 at-bats in July). But you'll take 25 homers and 75 RBI every year from a catcher and not worry too much about OBP, I suppose.
Alfredo Aceves (C+):
I get that he's got a rubber arm, but he is on pace to pitch in 80 games, which would be 25 more than any season of his career. Atchison, Aceves, Albers, Morales, Miller and Padilla are all on pace to set (and in several cases shatter) career highs in appearances. Something to watch.
Mike Aviles (C+):
Aviles has been about what you'd expect. Maybe that's not fair, he's shown a little more power and better defense than advertised. OK, his OBP is awful -- .283, he never walks -- and he doesn't hit righties. But for $1.2 million he's been fine as a hold-the-fort guy at shortstop.
Ryan Sweeney (C+):
On April 8, Sweeney was hitting .455. On May 8, Sweeney was hitting .360. On June 8, Sweeney was hitting .305. On July 8, Sweeney was hitting .283. I think Ted Williams is safe.
Josh Beckett (C-):
This could qualify as generous. Beckett has probably pitched a little better than his ERA would suggest -- his WHIP is 1.20, he's still at a 3-1 K/BB rate -- but this is still someone being paid 17 million bucks and coming nowhere close to earning it. Josh Beckett has made 187 starts with the Red Sox and has a 4.07 ERA. That's a healthy enough sample size to tell me this isn't an ace. There have been plenty of injuries, of course, but if Beckett/Lester/Buchholz had been close to what you'd expect from them, the Sox would be a wild-card team right now. If they continue to pitch like they have this season they will stay around .500, doesn't matter if Crawford and Ellsbury return or not.
Dustin Pedroia: (C-):
Again, this is being kind -- this is, statistically, the worst season of Pedroia's career by a lot, an OPS exactly 100 points lower than his career number, batting .266, 22 points lower than his worst year -- but I'll bump him up a grade for trying to play through an injury that clearly has been hugely limiting. I've always looked at Pedroia as a viable 3,000-hit candidate, but this will be the second time in three years that he'll miss significant time with an injury. If you look at the guys who get to 3,000 hits, very few of them have multiple seasons in their prime with 40, 50 games missed.
Mark Melancon (D+):
Would anyone be shocked if this was the best reliever on the team in the second half? Since he's returned he has allowed one earned run in 13 innings, lowering his ERA from 49.50 to 7.04.
Clay Buchholz (D):
I'm on the record -- there was NOTHING wrong with Clay Buchholz getting in a car for an hour and a half and sitting near a pool for a charity event. That was the Boston media at its worst -- creating a story simply to get phone calls and page views. No one has time to take a deep breath, gotta be first and angriest. But -- and I'm not a doctor, understood -- it was semi-disturbing to see Buchholz with a mouthful of dip in the dugout on Sunday night. That can't be part of the solution for someone who was hospitalized last month with esophagitis.
Adrian Gonzalez (D):
Saw this on Twitter Sunday night -- Andruw Jones has as many home runs at Fenway Park this season (four) as Adrian Gonzalez. Yup, he leads the league in doubles. Yup, his average is up to .283 after the 18-game hitting streak. Yup, he went to right field without a complaint (sort of astonishing that act should be praised, but here we are) and handled himself very well out there. All that is true and so is this: Gonzalez has been a disaster this season. He has six home runs in 339 at-bats. David Ortiz -- playing on a one-year deal and basically begging for a two-year contract -- has hit at least six homers each month this season. Ortiz has been the hitter Gonzalez is supposed to be, and needs to be for this team. Assuming Gonzalez is healthy -- and it's hard to imagine the Sox would run him out there every day if he was injured -- this lack of power is either Mystery 1 or 1A for this team, depending on where you rank the Curious Case of Daniel Bard.
Jon Lester (D):
Just Another Guy. Squarely in his prime and has watched his contemporaries -- Matt Cain, Justin Verlander -- figure it out while Lester has regressed to a startling degree. His strikeout rate is the lowest of his career while he's giving up more than a hit an inning for the first time. Forget the eye-rolling and bitching and moaning with umpires -- for the first time in his career his stuff isn't very good.
Nick Punto (D):
How come no one ever brings up Punto's power surge in 2008 when red-flagging guys? He hit one HR in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and has one so far in 2012. He doubled that number in 2008. I put that season right next to Brady Anderson's and Luis Gonzalez's on The Hall of Shady list.
Daniel Bard (F):
Wouldn't surprise me if, a year from today, he was again a very, very good major-league reliever. It also wouldn't surprise me if he was still lost in the minors, walking four batters an inning for Pawtucket.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (F):
I've written this before but sometimes you forget it actually happened: The Red Sox spent $206 million in 2007 to lock up Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew. Yup, inking J.D. Drew to a $70 million contract is the unquestioned gold standard of that group.
(Now that the Dice-K era is coming to an end -- if it isn't over already -- can we finally just call it a massive flop and move on? He received $52 million in salary for one good season. That's the the exact length, width and depth of it. All the breathless reporting about the gyroball and 250-pitch outings and 100-mph fastballs turned out to be garbage. You know what helps Dice-K? Two things: He was injured so much you almost forgot about him and the Lackey and Crawford deals have taken over as the headline whiffs for Theo Epstein.)
Bobby Valentine (C+):
No Crawford, no Ellsbury, no Andrew Bailey, nothing from Daniel Bard, Lester, Gonzalez, an injured Pedroia, a million different outfielders, DL stints for Buchholz and Beckett. Anyone think this team's record would be any different -- good or bad -- if Terry Francona was still the manager? Valentine will be the fall guy if they finish the year at .500, but to blame him for the position this team is in is roughly the equivalent of blaming a ride operator at Epcot if the The Walt Disney Company went bankrupt tomorrow. This is on the players, the front office and John Henry, in whichever order you prefer.
Ben Cherington (C-):
Remember, he was a leading advocate for moving Bard to the rotation. And the one-two combination of getting nothing back for Theo and the lopsided early return on Bailey-for-Reddick equals a less-than-impressive first half season on the job.