Red Sox Report Card: Grading the defending champs after an up-and-down first half
The official midpoint of the 2019 baseball season has arrived, which means it's time to take stock of the 44-37 Red Sox, who didn't lose their 37th game until Aug. 19 last season, and no, that's not a typo. This year's team has scuffled along, but remains in the wild card hunt. "By no means have we played our best baseball," said ace David Price. "We're six or seven games over .500. I don't know where we are. But we haven't done anything great yet this year...I think we all know that we're a better team than we've showcased these first 81 games and we look to get better." Until then, we're left to judge what they've done so far via our Red Sox report card. Spoiler alert: there are a lot of C's.
Mookie Betts (C+)
Say hello to the limitations of WAR. Betts may lead the team in wins above replacement (3.2), but the defending MVP would be the first to admit he has fallen well short of expectations. He has been mired in the .265 range for two months now, and that's not Betts. Beyond his relative lack of impact -- and yes, we're grading him on a curve -- there's a mystifying lack of joy. Baseball has felt like a grim endeavor this season, and that's a problem.
Xander Bogaerts (A)
Hey! Someone who is exceeding expectations! Give Bogaerts credit for this -- after signing a six-year, $120 million extension that makes him the face of the future, he hasn't become complacent. He instead appears determined to justify the team's faith. He hits the halfway point leading the Red Sox in OPS (.909) and RBI (53), and he's on pace for his first 30-homer season. Add burgeoning leadership qualities -- he's a mentor to Rafael Devers -- and he's the team's first-half MVP.
Andrew Benintendi (C+)
What happened? Benintendi was supposed to contend for a batting title. Instead, he struggled in the leadoff spot, was dropped back to No. 2, and continues searching for consistency. He's drawing walks, which is good, but he's on pace to strike out more than 150 times, which is bad. The offense would be a lot more dangerous if Benintendi were doing his part, but 2019 thus far feels like a continuous search for answers, even with an OPS pushing .800.
Rafael Devers (A-)
The numbers that J.D. Martinez posted last season -- .330-43-130 -- seem like a reasonable ceiling for Devers, who started slowly in April before exploding in May as the American League Player of the Month. Devers has some Adrian Beltre in his ability to cover the entire plate and punish the ball from one knee. He is also a far better defender than his 12 errors would suggest. He's a future star and lineup anchor who is only getting started at 22.
J.D. Martinez (B)
Martinez spent most of the first half hitting .300 with a .900 OPS, which should merit a higher grade on the surface, except he's in the same camp as Betts. More is expected of him than he's delivering, but at least he's leading the team in homers while remaining the most dangerous DH in baseball. Back issues have contributed to inconsistent playing time, and it seems like he's playing too much outfield, but he remains a middle-of-the-lineup threat.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (C-)
Bradley woke up on May 20 hitting .144 with no homers and seven RBIs. Despite that brutal lack of production, Alex Cora continuously penciled his name into the lineup. On May 20, Bradley smacked an opposite-field homer in Toronto. He duplicated the feat a day later and has been off to the races ever since, post an OPS of over 1.000 with eight homers. The notoriously streaky hitter was an F a little longer than he's been an A, however, which is how we land on C-minus.
Michael Chavis (B+)
The initial honeymoon period was something else, as Chavis arrived out of desperation and then refused to leave. He blasted 10 homers in his first 28 games and looked not only like a Rookie of the Year candidate, but an All-Star one, too. Then reality arrived in the form of a pernicious scouting report -- attack Chavis with elevated fastballs and sliders off the plate. His production has slowed since, but he certainly hasn't been part of the problem.
Christian Vazquez (B+)
Raise your hand if you never though Vazquez would hit. Yeah, me neither. But to his credit, he has emerged as a legitimate offensive backstop, doubling his lifetime home run total of 10 in the first half alone. He may not be the most selective hitter, but 20 homers out of that position would be a welcome addition to any roster. He does lose some points for defensive inconsistency, particularly when it comes to passed balls and wild pitches.
Mitch Moreland (B)
In today's three-true-outcomes game, Moreland possesses value. He was having a solid season, with a team-leading 13 homers, before being sidelined by a back strain on May 25. He returned for one game in June before heading back to the IL with a quad injury. He hasn't hit for average (.225), but his .543 slugging percentage leads the team. On top of that, it seemed like every homer either tied the score or gave the Red Sox the lead.
Eduardo Nunez (D)
It's fair to ask what exactly Nunez is doing on the roster. In addition to carrying a sub-.600 OPS, he has struggled defensively at second, third, and short. The free-swinging Nunez belongs on the list of players who can be DFA'd or traded to make room for an upgrade, even if he has technically raised his average nearly 30 points in the last week. He gets bonus points for wearing an inning in relief when the Red Sox were being blown out in Arizona.
Brock Holt (C+)
Holt's return from a scratched cornea actually coincided with the team playing better, at least until a hamstring injury put him back on the IL this weekend. When he's going well, Holt is a weapon in reserve. He deserves extra credit for being a winning player who's willing to check his ego in a utility role without grousing about playing time. But injuries have made him unreliable and created holes on the roster.
Steve Pearce (F)
There's not much to say. The Red Sox rewarded Pearce for winning the World Series MVP award with a one-year deal worth more than $6 million. He has not remotely lived up to it, hitting just .180 with one homer before a back injury put him on the IL. Pearce has time to make amends in the second half, but if he doesn't hit, Dave Dombrowski could be in the market for a right-handed first baseman -- the exact role Pearce filled last season.
Sandy Leon (D+)
There was a time in April when Leon represented a potential savior. As the late Edna Krabapple might say: "Hah!" Recalled when the pitching and coaching staffs decided the Blake Swihart Era needed to end, Leon has provided almost zero production (.190) while Christian Vazquez takes the majority of reps behind the plate. Red Sox pitchers have a 3.60 ERA while throwing to Leon, though, so it's not all bad.
Chris Sale (C+)
For all that has gone wrong from a team perspective -- shaky bullpen, horrible fifth starters, no clutch hitting -- virtually all of it could be papered over with a typical A-plus season out of Sale, who just signed a five-year extension worth $145 million. Instead, the Red Sox are just 6-10 in his 16 starts. Simply reverse that number and the Sox would be ahead of the Rays and leading the AL wild-card race. Sale's 3.59 ERA feels too high by about 40 percent.
Rick Porcello (C)
Porcello has been average in every way this season, and for once, simplistic stats such as record (5-7) and ERA (4.52) pretty much tell the story. His 2016 Cy Young Award will go down as one of baseball's curiosities, but there's no reason he can't be what he was last year (17-7, 4.28). His strikeout rate has dipped and his walk rate has climbed, but he earns points for reliably taking the ball every fifth day and being a clubhouse leader.
Eduardo Rodriguez (C)
Say hello to the most frustrating Red Sox pitcher of the past decade. E-Rod perpetually feels on the cusp of breaking out, but he never quite sustains his success. When he's on, his stuff is as good as anyone's in the rotation. When he's off, he nibbles and is little more than a five-inning pitcher. He's in a similar boat as Porcello, and the Red Sox will need more from both of them (or their replacements) to make noise in the second half.
David Price (B+)
Admit it -- you feel more confident in Price than Sale. His average fastball may only hit 92 mph now, but it doesn't matter, because Price knows exactly where he's putting it. Teammates compare him to Greg Maddux for his ability to dissect both sides of the plate -- "He carves it into about eight different zones," marvels Matt Barnes -- and Price matches that precision with a confidence befitting his status as a long-time ace. Durability remains a concern, though.
Marcus Walden (A-)
The 30-year-old rookie has been a godsend, wiping out opponents with a nasty slider-cutter-fastball repertoire. He vultured six early wins as a long man, but has since forced himself into Alex Cora's late-innings mix. Save for one high-profile failure in Toronto when he blew a save in the ninth inning, he has been everything the Red Sox could've asked. Whether he keeps it up in the second half remains to be seen, but for now, he's a stalwart.
Brandon Workman (A-)
It's easy to forget, but Workman was left off the World Series roster last year in favor of Drew Pomeranz. If the Red Sox somehow find their way back to October, Workman will be front and center. Blessed with outstanding makeup, he has overcome the loss of his 95 mph fastball to become one of the most unhittable relievers in baseball, thanks to a vicious curveball that has produced a 1.70 ERA. His 40 appearances lead the AL.
Matt Barnes (B)
There aren't many pitchers like Barnes in baseball. For the first half of the first half, he might've been the most valuable reliever in baseball, striking out half the batters he faced despite being used almost exclusively in high-leverage situations against the heart of the order. He has clearly worn down since, however, and manager Alex Cora has had to ease his workload as Barnes' ERA soared to near 4.00.
Ryan Brasier (C-)
The Red Sox made some offseason assumptions about their bullpen. One was that Tyler Thornburg would contribute. Another was that Steven Wright wouldn't get popped for PEDs. A third was that Brasier would pick up where he left off last year, when he told Gary Sanchez to get the bleep in the box and recorded huge outs all postseason. Instead, he has struggled against lefties and found himself dropped in the pecking order. Don't let the 3.34 ERA fool you.
Colten Brewer (C)
The big curve-balling right-hander arrived at camp as a possible breakout performer in the mold of Brasier a year earlier, but it took him a while to find his footing. He carried an ERA of 6.00 into May while struggling to throw strikes. He owns a 3.13 ERA since, however, and has slowly earned the confidence of manager Alex Cora, twice pitching the eighth inning recently while protecting small leads.
Heath Hembree (B+)
Red Sox relievers seem to vacillate between unhittable and unreliable, and until an elbow injury shelved him on the last homestand, Hembree had settled comfortably into the former camp. He allowed runs in six of his first 13 appearances before dialing back his slider usage in favor of his fastball. The results have been eye-opening: A 0.59 ERA and .115 opponents' batting average since. Hembree could potentially close when he returns.
Hector Velazquez (D)
When we talk about Red Sox fifth starters giving the team nothing in place of the injured Nathan Eovaldi, we're primarily talking about Velazquez. Useful in a similar swing role last year, Velazquez is just 1-3 with a 6.41 ERA in seven starts this year. Even worse, he has averaged fewer than three innings, which has devastated the bullpen and left the Red Sox feeling the carryover effect for days. A major disappointment in an important role.
Nathan Eovaldi (D)
Talk about a devastating loss. Eovaldi had just delivered his best outing of the season with six strong innings in New York when he felt pain in his elbow which required surgery to remove loose bodies. He hasn't pitched since, and the impact on the entire pitching staff has been enormous. Without Eovaldi, the fifth starters have given the team almost no chance, the bullpen has been taxed, and the future remains murky.
Alex Cora (C)
Starting the pitchers slowly in spring training? Didn't work. Flipping Andrew Benintendi and defending MVP Mookie Betts atop the order? Didn't work. Choosing to mix and match relievers without a closer? Didn't work. Writing a new chapter instead of turning the page? That hasn't worked either. Cora's grade is this high because he has kept the clubhouse together, he's a smart in-game tactician, and his confidence is real.
Dave Dombrowski (C-)
The president of baseball operations prioritized keeping the band together over anticipating weaknesses. Extending Chris Sale could backfire, though Xander Bogaerts' long-term deal was a bargain. Committing $68 million to Nathan Eovaldi after a couple of good weeks in October feels reactionary, as does a one-year, $6.25 million for Steve Pearce. But the biggest sin was deciding Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly could be replaced internally, leaving the bullpen an arm short.