Third and final (duh) Red Sox report card of the season. Just a couple of quick notes before we get started …
1. I put almost no weight on the playoffs when it came to grading. I’ll take what a guy did over 162 games vs. what he did (or in most cases did not do) over three games.
2. Grades are based on the expectations for a player heading into 2009. If Jonathan Papelbon finished the season with the same stats as Ramon Ramirez, you’d be looking at two different grades, obviously.
Here are the grades (and feel free to let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org) ...
Victor Martinez: A-
I saw where Rob Bradford picked Martinez for the Sox MVP in 2009. I’m not sure I can go that far (after all, he played just 56 games and I’m pretty sure the Sox make the wild card even without making the deal — you knew Texas was going to fade eventually), but I understand the thinking. Huge addition to the lineup and a perfect fit. As with Jason Bay last season, it feels like Martinez has been here for five years.
Martinez’s 2009 numbers with the Sox projected to 145 games (as a catcher he won’t play 162, but if healthy he’ll DH and play first enough to stay around 145-150):
21 homers, 106 RBI, 83 runs, .405 OBP, .507 slugging
Anyone who wouldn’t sign up for that from Martinez in 2009? Nothing on the back of his baseball card to suggest that he can’t do it, either (though he won’t hit .336 again — but he should be near .300).
Kevin Youkilis: A-
My pick for the team MVP this season, and as good a choice as any for AL MVP in the non-Joe Mauer division. Remember, he played in just 136 games this season but still managed to post a .305-27-94 line. I promise not to project you to sleep (no 162-game “what if” for Chris Woodward, for example) but here are Youkilis’ numbers if he had played 162 games in 2009:
32 homers, 112 RBI, 118 runs, .413 OBP, .548 slugging
(Not the most important thought, I suppose, but can anyone give me a better candidate for 2009 Boston Athlete of the Year? I think we are going to do that at WEEI.com this year, we gave it to Pierce/Allen/Garnett in 2008. Those guys (along with any other Celtics player) are out. Can’t think of a Bruin that is even close. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what the Pats do, but right now I think he’s the favorite. If Wakefield had managed to stay healthy and win 20 games he would have been a lock.)
Jason Bay: B+
I was wavering between a B+ and A-, and I decided to give him a slight hit for his no-show in the series with Anaheim (.125 BA). But he had a really solid season (36 homers, 119 RBI, 105 runs) and, gun to my head, I’d guess he comes back and gets the five years.
(Though please don’t misinterpret that as an invitation to actually put a gun to my head and make me predict whether or not Bay re-signs with the Sox. Not for my safety, mind you. It’s just that my combination of street smarts and the ability to slap on the Camel Clutch from any position makes me the most destructive force the Earth has seen since Steven Segal in 1988. Even a quick glance at my photo will tell you that.)
I just think Theo will look at all the options and come to the conclusion that some guys might put up numbers in Boston but Bay is one player who has proven he can. That fifth year might be tough to swallow (Bay would be 35 years old), but if he's healthy you have to figure it’s safe enough to pencil in .280-30-100 for the next four years. The “Will Bay Stay or Go” story is the headliner for the offseason.
Daniel Bard: B
Admit it, you kind of wanted Bard to come out and pitch a third inning on Sunday (not hard to admit, given what occurred, I guess). It never would have happened, of course, and I know it would have made no sense, but how easy did Bard make it look in the sixth and seventh? And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more dominant frame this season than the one produced by Bard in the eighth inning of Game 1.
Look, he has to cut down on his walks (in 49.1 innings he walked 22) but is there any doubt that, at the very worst, he’ll be the eighth inning guy next season? It is really early in this novel but Bard looks every bit a top-five closer-in-waiting.
Jon Lester: B
Quick, what is Lester’s career win-loss record? Three, two, one ... Would you believe 42-16? Makes sense, I guess, when you think about it, but I have to admit to being surprised. Obviously he doesn’t have the amount of decisions to qualify, but if he did, his .724 career winning percentage would rank second in MLB history.
Maybe I’m hitting him too hard for that shaky start (on May 26 his ERA for the season was 6.07), but this is a grade for the year as a whole. But no pitcher other than Zack Grienke was even close to being in Lester’s class over the final four months of the season.
I’m sure it won’t be a problem for Lester, but he will enter 2010 with huge expectations. I suspect you’ll see his name quite a few times as a preseason Cy Young pick.
Dustin Pedroia: B
Note to every announcer calling a Red Sox game over the next decade: It’s OK to retire the “No one believed in him” angle with Pedroia. We get it. Time to move on.
I’m still on board with Pedroia as a real 3,000-hit candidate. Assuming he stays healthy, let’s give him an average of 185 hits a year over the next decade (not an unreasonable number, his career 162-game average is 195 hits). That would get him to 2,430 by age 36. If he’s still a useful everyday player at that point he’ll have about a 50 percent chance of getting to 3,000.
Jacoby Ellsbury: B
Ellsbury already ranks sixth in franchise history with his 129 career steals. Harry Hooper is the leader with 300, so sometime in 2012 or so ...
I think this was exactly what you wanted to see from Ellsbury in his second full season. His walks were up and his strikeouts were down, he stole 20 more bases with just one more caught stealing, and his batting average, OBP and slugging all went up by about 20 points. His approval rating among Pink Hats even is up from 2008, which I didn’t think was possible.
(And yes, 2024 will be a big year for 17-year-old kids named Jacoby asking their mothers why they have that tattoo on the lower part of their back.)
Billy Wagner: B
Would’ve been at the head of the class had he been in Boston all season and put up the same numbers he posted in his six weeks with the Sox. He was great in his 15 regular-season innings, allowing just three earned runs with 22 strikeouts. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a closer somewhere in 2010.
Here’s a tip that may help out if you ever confuse Wagner with Mariano Rivera:
Wagner’s postseason ERA in 2009 was 18.00. That is the THIRD time in his career he has had an ERA of 18.00 in a postseason (1997, 1998). Throw in a 16.88 (2006) and it’s hard to ignore the possibility that the pressure might get the best of him.
Takashi Saito: B
This just seemed like it would work when he signed in the offseason. Low-risk (the contract was for a million-and-a-half plus incentives) and just two years removed from being arguably the top closer in the National League? Seemed a no-brainer. This is why I’d never pay a closer huge money. Saito outpitched K-Rod in 2009 (better ERA, K-Rod had a slightly better WHIP but in an easier league) for one-sixth the price. And you know what? That really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise if you were paying attention. K-Rod set the record with 62 saves in 2008. Guess what? Saito was nearly as good (his WHIP was better, more Ks per innings, fewer walks). The lesson is that saves mean absolutely nothing. Probably 30 guys could’ve saved 62 games for the Angels in 2008, including Saito if he had stayed healthy. Just one to grow on when people start throwing out saves in defense of Papelbon as the inevitable debate begins (whether it be this year or next).
J.D. Drew: B
A little more Player A/Player B:
Player A: .267 batting average, .384 OBP, .537 slugging
Player B: .279 batting average, .392 OBP, .522 slugging
Player A? Jason Bay. Player B? J.D. Drew.
J.D. Drew had an OPS of .914 in 2009, 21st in the major leagues. He had a higher OPS than Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Justin Morneau, Derek Jeter, Chase Utley, Victor Martinez and Matt Holliday. I’m sure Theo believes that Drew earned every penny of that $14 million this season.
Ramon Ramirez: B-
Raise your hand if you expect Ramirez to contribute much in 2010. Which guy is the one we are going to see?
First half of 2009: 38.2 IP, 2.33 ERA, 27 hits, 27 K, 15 walks, 1.086 WHIP
Second half of 2009: 31 IP, 3.48 ERA, 34 hits, 25 K, 17 walks, 1.645 WHIP
Hideki Okajima: B-
Still a reliable guy out of the bullpen, but there is a trend developing.
Again, what he gave you in 2009 is serviceable and plenty good enough to have a role in any 'pen. But another step or two backward and suddenly he’s just another guy. It bears watching in 2010.
Jonathan Papelbon: B-
1. This is not chest-puffing, because I’m wrong far more than I’m right, but I did first-guess the intentional walk to Torii Hunter. I just think loading the bases to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero is a mistake. The best way to beat Vlad, of course, is to make him hit pitches out of the strike zone (you know he’s swinging at anything). With a two-run lead, maybe Papelbon would have taken a few chances, but in a one-run game he’s not going to fool around with a potential walk. Hunter is a nice player but he’s not the kind of player you have to pitch around. Not a great series for Francona (he also left Beckett in for too long in Game 2) but he’s earned a miss or two at least.
2. I can’t shake the feeling that you might have seen Papelbon in a Red Sox uniform for the last time on Sunday. And if that is true, it really is a shame that he was booed off the field after giving up the hit to Guerrero. This isn’t Calvin Schiraldi we’re talking about here. Papelbon is the best closer in franchise history and, until the meltdown on Sunday, had never allowed a run in the postseason. Between the standing ovation for David Ortiz the day he was popped for steroids and this, you have to call this season a big whiff for the Fenway faithful.
3. I don’t know if Papelbon is on the decline, but there are some red flags.
More walks allowed in 2009 (24) than in 2007 and 2008 combined (23).
Worst K/BB rate and WHIP in his four seasons as a closer.
But even knowing that, if he returns to the Red Sox in 2010 he’ll be a top-five closer. He still strikes out 10 guys per nine innings and was brilliant in the second half of 2009 (.897 WHIP, .274 OBP against.) And I don’t think anyone believes that what happened on Sunday will have a negative impact on Papelbon.
Josh Beckett: B-
Cy Young in May, June and July (10-2, 2.43 ERA), and Matt Young for the rest of the season (7-4, 5.31 ERA.)
Clay Buchholz: B-
If the Mariners call Theo Epstein in the offseason and offer Felix Hernandez for Buchholz and Bard, should he pull the trigger? I think the answer is yes, but unlike in August (when the deal was rumored), I would pause before answering in the affirmative. Really, the two players on the Red Sox who “broke out” in 2009 were Buchholz and Bard. Would anyone be stunned if Buchholz went, I don’t know, 15-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 2010?
(Of course it is also possible that Buchholz goes 4-8 with a 5.40 ERA and spends some time in Pawtucket. And that is why you make the Hernandez trade. I think Bard is the real thing, but Hernandez could win three or four Cy Youngs in the next decade. Wonder if those talks will pick up again in the offseason.)
Alex Gonzalez: B-
This is the highest grade I can give anyone with a .316 on-base percentage. I know, I know, he hit .284 and played a great shortstop, but if he returns to the Sox in 2010 (and I bet he will — he has a $6 million club option, pretty good value) don’t expect anything close to a .284 average. Coin flip that his OBP won’t even be that high. But in a lineup that could include Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, Bay, Martinez and Drew, having a no-hit, good-field shortstop isn’t the end of the world.
Mike Lowell: C+
Ran out of steam down the stretch (.324 slugging percentage, just one home run in 81 plate appearances in September and October), but had a passable season, I guess. Almost an exact match of his, well, passable 2008 season:
2008: 58 runs, 27 doubles, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 38 walks, 61 K, .338 OBP
2009: 54 runs, 29 doubles, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 33 walks, 61 K, .337 OBP
Not great for $12 million a year, but not a disaster, either. I think the Sox would be happy with one more season of .280-17-75 before the contract ends and Lowell either A) retires or B) signs somewhere for a year and a couple of million bucks. Think I’ll keep more of an eye on those late one-year deals this year — I’m almost sure I didn’t even know Bobby Abreu was with Anaheim until a few weeks after he signed on Feb. 12. Didn’t count on that move being the difference in an ALDS Sox/Angels series.
Tim Wakefield: C
Speaking of one-year deals …
What a strange year for Knucksie. Doesn’t the whole All-Star thing feel like three years ago? His 2009 season was defined by a pair of glaring spilts:
First half: 11-3, 4.31 ERA
Second half: 0-2, 6.00 ERA
Home: 7-1, 4.13 ERA
Road: 4-4, 5.10 ERA
He’ll be back. Sure, he’s 43 years old (if you can claim that you played with skinny Barry Bonds and fat Roger Clemens you have some miles on the tires) and missed basically half the season, but he’s a bargain at $4 million. As of today he’d be your fifth starter. Would you rather go out in the open market and take a shot on a Brad Penny type for 6 or 7 mil? (And Penny will get that kind of money — do you realize that he was 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA with the Giants? I firmly believe that if Kevin Costner’s character in “For Love of the Game” unretired and signed with the Braves, he’d win 18 games. The NL is a disgrace.)
David Ortiz: C
Easiest grade to hand out. If I had asked you, off of a 2008 that seemed to signal the beginning of the end, what would constitute an average season for Ortiz in 2009 you would’ve gone with something in the .270-20-80 range, right? Well, he didn’t come close to that batting average, but the power was there (27 homers and 81 RBI after June 1.) And he was an 'A' player and an 'F' player for nearly the same amount of time in 2009. Ironically, I also gave Esther Rolle a 'C' in my “Good Times” report card for the 1976 TV season.
Manny Delcarmen: D+
Maybe Delcarmen pitches 15 years in the majors and this just turns out to be one of the two or three stinkers in his career. Or maybe his putrid second half (7.27 ERA, 1.885 WHIP) is a harbinger and he’s out of the majors in three years. Relief pitching is just impossible to predict.
Jason Varitek: D
You know, if the Red Sox sign some journeyman to catch twice a week in 2010 and he puts up the same numbers as Varitek, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But there is no reason to have to watch this guy struggle again next year. Just retire, Jason. Your legacy is secure. Move on to coaching, or NESN, or even a little work for WEEI.com (come on — I know you are dying to join the crew. Where else can you make weekly NFL picks that don’t include the point spread?) All I know is that no one wants you to play in 2010 and have to battle to hit Matt Roloff’s weight.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: D
His final four starts (3-1, 2.22 ERA) saved Dice-K from flunking out. Still not sold on him for 2010, however, his WHIP for those four starts was 1.40, a lousy number. Still has three years and $28 million left on his contract (with a full no-trade.)
Sort of had an impact but still incompletes:
Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, Jed Lowrie, Gil Velazquez, Dusty Brown, Casey Kotchman, Junichi Tazawa, Michael Bowden, Joey Gathright, Javier Lopez (who did pitch 14 times and could have easily been given an 'F.')
Couldn’t think of anything new to write from previous report cards so let’s just give them a grade and move on:
Nick Green: C
Rocco Baldelli: D+
Biggest story of the season:
On the field? Daniel Bard. Off the field? Ortiz and whatever it was that he did or did not do.
Biggest non-story of the season:
Do you think if Manny Ramirez were on this team the Sox would still be playing? Me neither.
Three semi-fearless predictions for the offseason:
The Sox re-sign Bay for five years and $75 million.
Papelbon is not traded but (at least once) blasts the front office for not showing interest in signing him to an extension.
Varitek is bought out by the Red Sox and does not choose to retire, instead signing a one-year deal with the Mets.