When you screw up, you've just got to own it. And so it is that I'm here today to eat my words on Bobby Dalbec.
The Red Sox rookie is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, fresh off an August that saw him voted American League Rookie of the Month. He delivered one of his finest all-around performances of the season in Thursday's 4-0 victory over the Rays, going 2 for 4 with a pair of opposite-field RBI singles. He also shone defensively, scooping throws at first while breaking in middle infielders Jonathan Arauz and Jack Lopez.
Not even a month ago, I included Dalbec on my list of five Red Sox players I didn't want to see for the rest of the season. "He's a drag on the entire offense," I wrote. "Add the fact that he has played some of the worst first base defense, statistically, in the American League, and sending him to the bench or Pawtucket is long overdue."
That story appeared on Aug. 12. The next night, Dalbec went 3 for 4 with a home and two doubles vs. the Orioles. The night after that, he slammed two more homers vs. the O's. He hasn't stopped hitting since, batting .326 with six homers, 14 RBIs, and a 1.187 OPS in his last 15 games with the Red Sox clinging to the second wild card and remaining within spitting distance of the Yankees.
To quote the great Bob Ryan, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."
My thinking was defensible. Dalbec had struck out in more than 37 percent of his plate appearances without supplying the power that was supposed to offset all those swings and misses. And his defense really was atrocious, ranking at the bottom of the league, per the advanced metrics.
But to his credit, Dalbec didn't let failure or the doubters derail him. Manager Alex Cora and hitting coach Tim Myers have maintained that no one works harder or takes his struggles more personally than the rugged first baseman.
He arrived for early swings in the cage day after day after day, determined to brute force his way out of a season-long slump. And over the last month, he has delivered, hitting the ball with authority and even taking some pitcher's pitches -- like a low inside fastball from Tampa's Luis Patiño earlier this week -- and ripping them out of the park.
"It feels good to contribute," Dalbec said on Thursday. "I feel like I'm contributing on a daily basis."
For all the talk about how the Red Sox should've acquired Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline, Dalbec has badly outplayed his more hyped Yankees counterpart. In August, Dalbec hit .339 with seven homers, 21 RBIs, and a 1.205 OPS. Meanwhile, after a hot start in New York, Rizzo has cratered. He hit just .209 with two homers, 10 RBIs, and a .620 OPS in August, undone in part by 11 days on the COVID IL.
While it's fair to argue the Red Sox needed immediate first base help (particularly defensively) on July 30 that never arrived, it's also reasonable to conclude the Red Sox will be a better team in September with Dalbec at first base than Rizzo. Not sure anyone saw that coming.
I certainly didn't. Not even a month ago, I wrote Dalbec off for the rest of the season. He has since proven himself indispensable to what has turned into a pretty solid 8-5 stretch in the midst of a COVID outbreak.
So, yeah, about that story, Bobby -- no hard feelings?