Opinion

Boston Red Sox Report Card: Position Players

Boston Red Sox Report Card: Position Players - How has each position performed at the unofficial halfway point of the season?
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (July 15, 2018 – Source: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America)

Entering the All-Star break, the Boston Red Sox have been arguably the most successful team in the league. The Red Sox currently have the most wins in baseball (68) and hold a 4.5-game lead in the AL East. However, what drives that success? With the next few days off, let’s take a look at how each position has performed at the unofficial halfway mark of the season.

Boston Red Sox Report Card: Position Players Performance

Catcher: C-

The duo of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon just have not been doing it this year. While both players are above average defensively, neither have been able to consistently make solid contact. Vazquez is hitting just .213/.249/.300, while Leon owns a slightly better .242/.284/.369 with a 74 wRC+. Neither stat line is good by any means, but there’s a shortage of good catchers in the majors.

Vazquez recently injured his pinky and will be off the field for the foreseeable future. This opens the door for fellow catcher Blake Swihart to make his last attempt at a starting role, but he’s only started one game since the Vazquez injury. Right now, his grade as a catcher is “Incomplete”.

First Base: A-

Mitch Moreland has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the 2018 season. Signed on a cheap two-year, $11 million dollar deal, Moreland entered the season expecting to be a platoon starter with Hanley Ramirez. Instead, Moreland has become one of the best first basemen in the entire American League.

Hitting .278/.353/.500 accompanied with Gold Glove-caliber defense, Moreland earned his first career All-Star nomination at the age of 32. While he probably won’t keep up his torrid pace, he should remain a solid contributor the rest of the year.

Recently acquired Steve Pearce has performed well in a small sample size. Through 32 plate appearances, Pearce is hitting .423/.500/.692 with a 219 wRC+. Obviously, this isn’t sustainable, but he’s still been a great addition. Moreland historically struggles against lefty pitching, and Pearce has been a welcome addition off the bench. Altogether, this unit has given the Red Sox everything they could have hoped for, and more.

Second Base: D+

While first base has overperformed, the second base position has been a weakness all season. Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt have split second base duties, which Nunez playing more often than not. While Holt has been solid, Nunez has struggled all season long.

He’s stabilized his offensive production in recent weeks, but he still boasts an underwhelming .255/.283/.361 slash line with a 71 wRC+ on the season. Additionally, he looks lost defensively. By this writer’s untrained eye, it appears as though Nunez never fully recovered from the knee injury sustained in the 2017 ALDS.

Brandon Phillips will be back up soon and should take over as a platoon starter at second base. This should send Nunez to a more comfortable utility infielder role, which should help his production whenever he’s on the field.

Third Base: B-

This grade will rise significantly in the second half, as Rafael Devers has figured out major league hitting. After a slow May, Devers has been on an offensive tear over the past month and a half of the season. On the year, Devers is hitting .241/.292/.424 with an 87 wRC+. He’s currently on the 10-day disabled list but should be back in the very immediate future.

The biggest flaw with Devers comes from his defense. While he has a strong arm and amazing reflexes, he struggles with the routine plays. Whether it’s just overthinking things or something else, this issue should improve with time. Will he ever win the Gold Glove? Probably not. However, he’s only 21, and his defense was always going to be a work in progress. In all, the 21-year old has been a solid third baseman, and should only get better as the season goes on.

Shortstop: A-

Xander Bogaerts is picking up right where he left off prior to his wrist injury. His production has been overshadowed in a power-happy lineup, but Bogaerts is enjoying a very strong season at the plate. Through 79 games, the star shortstop is hitting .284/.353/.535 with a 136 wRC+ and three grand slams.

While he won’t win the Gold Glove this year, his defense has also improved from years past. He’s not the same caliber of player as Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, or Carlos Correa, but there’s a genuine case that Bogaerts is a top-five shortstop in the league. He’s taught himself how to hit for power, and it’s lead to the best offensive season of his career.

Left Field: A

Andrew Benintendi has successfully built on his solid rookie year to establish himself as one of the games best left fielders. Through 91 games, the first-time All-Star is hitting .297/.380/.517 with a 141 wRC+. He’s arguably the third-best hitter on the best offense in baseball; not bad for a second-year player.

Defensively, he’s the worst of the Red Sox three outfielders, but that says more about the other two than it does Benintendi. The only thing holding his grade from an A+ is his relative struggles against left-handed pitching. Benintendi has improved in that regard, and at age 24, is well on his way to establishing himself among the game’s elite.

Center Field: C

It has been something of a season to forget for center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The longtime center fielder has struggled significantly at the plate, posting a lowly .210/.297/.345 slash line with a 73 wRC+. While some of that is due to a considerable amount of bad luck, Bradley still hasn’t provided much in terms of offense.

However, his defense alone earns him a C. There aren’t many defensive outfielders better than Bradley, and he’s good for a highlight reel play on a weekly basis. He has one of the strongest arms in the league and has almost unparalleled range. With the rest of the offense performing, he doesn’t need to be a strong hitter to perform. His glove alone justifies his spot in the lineup.

Right Field: A+

Mookie Betts could be the best player in baseball, and that includes Angels outfielder Mike Trout. He’s proven himself ever since first entering the majors, and he’s brought his game to a whole new level this year. Betts is posting an otherworldly .359/.448/.691 with a 202 wRC+. There aren’t many players capable of producing this well for a months’ time, nevermind sustaining that pace over 78 games.

Along with his bat, he’s arguably the best defensive right fielder in the game. Betts has already won two Gold Gloves in his young career, and could easily have a third by the end of the season. If everything ended today, Betts would have a serious case for the MVP award.

Designated Hitter: A+

Despite winning 93 games in 2017, there was clearly missing from the division-winning unit. The team lacked a power-hitting threat in the middle of the lineup and didn’t have a David Ortiz figure to intimidate opposing lineups.

Enter J.D. Martinez. The first-year Red Sox has been everything the Red Sox could possibly want and more. Martinez leads the league with 29 home runs to go along with a .328/.393/.644 slash line and a 176 wRC+. Martinez is already in the conversation for the greatest free agent signing in Red Sox history, and he’s only half a season into his Red Sox tenure.

One could easily argue that he’s off to the best start any DH ever had for the Red Sox, which says a lot when Ortiz was the DH for over a decade. Signing him at $20 million a year was an absolute steal, and he makes the Red Sox into a vastly superior unit.

The Bench: C+

The bench has been in constant flux all season, with the two common pieces being Brock Holt and Blake Swihart. While they earn a combined C+ grade, it’s almost unfair to group them together. Holt is in the midst of his best season since 2015, while Swihart has struggled in limited opportunities.

Holt has primarily served as the platoon second baseman with Eduardo Nunez but has also played all over the field. In his combined 60 appearances, Holt owns a .289/.363/.385 slash line with a 105 wRC+. While he doesn’t hit for power, he’s fantastic at hitting the ball where fielders aren’t, which is a lost art in today’s game. His defense isn’t great, but he’s not bad enough to be considered a liability at any position. Essentially, he’s been the perfect utility player.

Swihart, on the other hand, has struggled without consistent plate appearances. The do-everything Swihart currently owns an ugly .207/.263/.250 slash line with a terrible 38 wRC+. Defensively, he’s learning just about every position on the fly, and it shows.

It’s hard to put too much of Swihart’s struggles on Swihart himself. There’s a good ballplayer buried deep within, but the Red Sox completely mismanaged the former catcher. Perhaps regular playing time can straighten out the former top prospect. If not, he’ll remain one of the bigger “what could have been” stories of the past few years.

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